Monday, September 20, 2021

NorCo to Buy 112 Acres in East Allen For Open Space


As we all know, warehouse proliferation and increased truck traffic are two of the Lehigh Valley's biggest problems. While they provide some jobs, they also destroy local roads, gobble up the time and resources of first responders and detract from our quality of life. There's little a county government can do to slow things down as it has no say in zoning matters. But one thing it can do is buy up land that would otherwise fall prey to land developers. That's precisely what Northampton County did last week. It agreed to purchase 112 acres along the south side of Route 329 in East Allen Tp for $2.69 million, or $24,000 an acre. 

"Some of the views are phenomenal,." noted Parks Director Bryan Cope.  

One of my objections to some open space projects is that it is money wasted buying swamps and cliffs. While these tracts are certainly environmentally sensitive, there is little danger that anyone is planning to build a warehouse on a swamp. 

But this is land that could be developed for warehouses or a residential development. So preserving this land, which is located close to the Nor-Bath Trail and Wayne Grube Park, is an excellent use of county resources. 

Some of this land has been farmed for generations, and that will continue. 

Cope noted that, within the past two years, the county has been able to add two parks to its roster with just over 184 acres. Another 217 acres have been protected, both in rural areas and in more urban environments like Bethlehem and Easton. 

Executives Lamont McClure, John Stoffa and Gerald E "Jerry" Seyfried all made open space a cornerstone of their administrations. John Stoffa actually ran on the very unpolitical promise to raise taxes to fund it. "They elected me anyway," he liked to quip. 

McClure hailed Seyfried as the man who created "all the things we do today" with respect to  open space. 

McClure wants to name the Bear Swamp Archery Complex in Seyfried's honor.

"Oh great, they want to name a swamp after me,"is how Seyfried responded when Council member Ron Heckman informed him.   

Friday, September 17, 2021

McClure is Mandate Hesitant With Vaccine Hesitant

At last night's Northampton County Council meeting, Executive Lamont McClure advised that the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 has resulted in a spike of Covid-19 cases at the jail. He indicated 22 of about 500 inmates are currently infected, along with 7 of about 200 staffers and 2 vendors. "The vast majority of these people ... are unvaccinated," he remarked. "People need to get vaccinated and they need to do it now. Vaccinations save lives and they save livelihoods."

McClure noted he has offered COs who agree to a vaccine a $500 bonus. Moreover, there have been 16 vaccination clinics at the jail. But only 38% of the COs have been vaccinated."It's not enough," he said. "We need closer to 100%."

Council member Ron Heckman asked McClure whether he is considering a vaccine mandate at the jail. 

Unlike a mask mandate, a vaccine mandate is pretty intrusive. I'm willing to do all kinds of things if someone asks me. But I hate being told what to do, even when it's necessary.

McClure noted that public health experts uniformly advise that there should be empathy with the vaccine hesitant. He indicated strong-arm tactics are likely to be the least effective. Moreover, the AFSCME union representing COs considers a vaccine mandate a "bargainable issue," and requested the County to provide more education to officers. So the county is now providing prison staff with CDC and state Department of Health reports concerning the vaccines.on a weekly basis. 

There are also legal questions. Although the Pfizer vaccine has full FDA approval, the Moderna and J&J vaccines still have only emergency use authorization. It's unclear to me that a person can be forced to submit to a vaccine that has only been approved for emergency use. The courts will almost certainly have conflicting opinions

Assuming that this power exists or that vaccines have full approval, the next question is whether the County has the power to force its workers to submit to a vaccine. It might be able to do so at the jail, but it's really unclear to me,. The state has this kind of plenary power, but Northampton County has no plenary powers. Assuming it can make vaccines mandatory at the jail, the next question is who has this authority. I see nothing in the Home Rule Charter giving the Exec this authority, and it could be that this should come from County Council, which has the residual authority.  

There are many unanswered legal questions, so I can understand why McClure is mandate hesitant to those who are vaccine hesitant. Persuasion is better. At least for now. 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Election FAQs

From NorCo Elections Office: The Elections Office is providing a list of answers to Frequently Asked Questions for Northampton County voters for the General Election on November 2, 2021.

What races will be on the ballot?
·        County-wide offices, candidates for municipal offices, state and magisterial judges. The Elections Office recommends all voters review the ballot on-line before voting. The ballot will be available towards the end of September and can be viewed at: https://www.northamptoncounty.org/ctyadmn/electns/Pages/default.aspx
 
Who can vote in the General Election?
·        All registered voters are eligible to vote in the General Election. October 18th is the last day to register before the election.

How can I see if I’m registered to vote?
·        You can check your registration status at www.vote.pa.gov

Can I vote by mail?
·        Yes. Act 77, which was passed in 2019, allows for no excuse mail-in voting. Applications for a mail-in or civilian absentee ballots are available in the Election’s Office or at www.vote.pa.gov or www.NorthamptonVotes.com

How do I know my application has been accepted or if my ballot has been received?
·        Citizens who sign up on vote.pa.gov will receive emails about their application/ballot status. Voters who applied on paper can track the status of their ballot at vote.pa.gov once the state makes that tool available.

Why did I get an email saying my application for a mail-in ballot has been declined?
·        It’s likely that a duplicate application was filed or the application lacked a signature or a verifiable ID. Contact the Elections Office for assistance at 610-829-6260 or elections@northamptoncounty.org 

When will ballots go out in the mail?
·        Ballots will start being mailed out in late September or early October. Voters can check the status of their ballot on-line at www.vote.pa.gov   
 
I’m worried about getting my mail-in ballot back to the Elections Office on time.
·        To be counted, ballots must be returned to the Election’s Office by 8:00PM on November 2nd. We recommend voters return their ballot as soon as possible or at least get it in the mail by October 22nd. Secure ballot drop-off boxes will be available until 8:00PM on Nov. 2nd.
 
What can cause a mail-in ballot to be rejected?
·        Mail-in ballots can be rejected if:
o  The ballot was not enclosed in a sealed privacy envelope (i.e. a “naked” ballot)
o  The return envelope was not signed or dated
o  There are identifying marks or symbols on the privacy envelope
o  The ballot was not returned to the Election’s Office by 8:00PM on November 2nd.

What kind of stamp should I use to mail my ballot back?
·        Postage on the return envelopes is pre-paid. Voters do not need to add a stamp.

Do I have to return my ballot by mail?
·        No. Ballots can be returned directly to the Election’s Office at the Government Center at 669 Washington Street, Easton, PA 18042 or at one of the secure ballot drop boxes stationed around the County. (Boxes will be installed when ballots become available.)

Can someone else deliver my ballot to the Elections Office?
·        No. PA State Law states that voters must only drop off their own ballot. If you come into the office, you may be asked for your ID. If you drop off someone else’s ballot because they are physically unable to do so, you will be asked for a signed “Certification of Designated Agent” form. A copy of the form can be downloaded at www.vote.pa.gov

Can I vote using Ballot on Demand?
·        Yes, Ballot on Demand will be available in the Election Office at the Government Center starting September 20th until 4:30PM on October 26. You must bring an ID with you to the office.

I requested a mail-in ballot, but now I want to vote in-person at the polls.
·        Voters who prefer to use the machines must bring their mail-in ballots and the return envelope to the polls. The Judge of Election will spoil the ballot and ask the voter to complete a “Declaration to Surrender Ballot” form before allowing them to vote on the ExpressVote XL machine.

Will the polls be open on November 2nd?
·        Yes. As of right now, the Election’s Office plans on staffing all 156 precincts with 315 voting machines.

Have the ExpressVote XL machines been tested?
·        Yes. The machines undergo testing before the General Election on November 2nd. The machines performed very well in the last three elections.

Have any polling locations changed?

·        Bushkill Cherry Hill and Bushkill Center precincts are returning to Butz Elementary School

Do I have to wear a mask at the polls? What about the poll workers?
·        All poll workers are required to wear facemasks. We strongly request that voters wear masks out of respect to the people who volunteer in our elections.

Who should voters call if they have problems or questions either before or on Election Day?
·        The Northampton County Elections Office: 610-829-6260 or elections@northamptoncounty.org  

Our democracy increases in strength the more we all participate. If you, or someone you know, has an interest in taking a more active role, please consider becoming a poll worker. Poll workers are paid for their training time and work on Election Day. https://www.northamptoncounty.org/CTYADMN/ELECTNS/Pages/PollWorkers.aspx

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

When Anti-Vaxers Die From Covid-19

SorryAntiVaxxer is a website chronicling antivaxxers who died or became very ill after refusing the vaccine. Now I know some of you might enjoy a bit of schadenfreude at their suffering, but I consider these losses tragic and completely unnecessary. If you've refused to get the vaccine so far, please reconsider. 

One of the persons featured is Mark Kuronya, a 55 yo firefighter from Bethlehem. He was an anti-vaxxer who regularly posted memes making fun of the vaccine. One of his last entries joked that Delta was a new strain of bullshit."

It killed him on September 1. He was a loved father and a brave firefighter. 

He was also duped. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Lynch Mob Makes No Move on Northampton School Directors

On Monday night, Northampton Area School Directors met for the first time since anti-masker and anti-vaxer Steve Lynch promised an angry crowd to get rid of them.  At an August 29 Harrisburg rally, he vowed to physically remove them with 20 strong men. "Forget going onto these school boards with freakin' data. You go into these school boards to remove them. I'm going in with 20 strong men and I'm gonna' give them an option - they can leave or they can be removed." I figured you'd all want to know all the juicy details. Did Lynch and 20 strong men go after the geriatrics who sit on the school board? Was there a donnybrook with the Northampton police officers and Northampton County Deputy Sheriffs brought in to keep the peace? How many bodybuilders did School Board Prez Dave "Konkrete" Gogel toss around like ragdolls while keeping his mask fashionably in place?  Here's what happened. 

Nothing. 

No violence. Oh yeah, the school directors were called cowards and tyrants a few times, but no one uttered a profanity or even flipped a bird.

Steve Lynch has constantly told anti-maskers, "Do Not Comply." He has even advised health care workers to choose termination over being forced to submit to a jab of science juice. But there he was, as well behaved as an altar boy, with a mask covering both nose and mouth.  

Oh there was lots of security in place. In addition to several Northampton police officers, I saw six or seven deputy Sheriffs armed with a metal detector at the door. 

"Cell phone, wallet and keys," they barked at those entering the building. None of the anti-maskers and anti-vaxers even peeped, although that's a hell of a lot more intrusive than a stupid face mask. 

Once my Bowie knife and bazooka were taken away, my first priority was knowing where the rest room was located. No, I'm no Michael Corleone. I had no pistol stashed in the can, but needed to squirt my own water gun. When you're 70, you'll understand. Anyway, when I was done, a Deputy was standing at the door, making sure that my business included no mob activity. Fortunately for me, there was no anal probe. 

The meeting was held in the high school auditorium. A huge crowd was apparently anticipated. There were over 100 in attendance, and most of them were anti-maskers out to portray the school board as evil villains. As for the school directors, I saw no evidence that they bullied the audience. This was one of the reasons Lynch gave for needing 20 strong men. They in fact seemed incapable of bullying anyone. 

I've been to Northampton Area High School many times over the years, but my previous trips have been fun. I've been there for basketball games and tournaments. I've always considered it a friendly school where both parents and kids understand that a basketball court or gridiron is actually a classroom where people learn to give it their all, to win graciously or lose with dignity. And they have the best perogies in the world.

So it was hard for me to feel threatened by the lynch mob, which incidentally had a lot of strong women. For reasons that mystify me, they spoke out against the mask mandate. Even if this measure is ineffective, it is designed to keep students and staff from getting sick, with the goal of keeping school open five days a week. Even if you think it's silly, how can you really object to something designed to keep your child healthy?

As I listened to the anti-maskers threaten school board members that "there are 20 strong men here" or call these hapless unpaid public servants "tyrants" and "cowards," I had to wonder whether they really could possibly mean what they were saying or were instead playing highly-stylized roles in what has now become an American form of Kabuki theatre. 

Wearing ridiculous T-shirts and signs, they make exaggerated claims that masks are "child abuse". They openly jeered at the one person who spoke in favor of the mandate but hypocritically complained about their first amendment rights when their time had expired. 

Although there was lots of coverage of this American Kabuki theatre last night, it will be a short run. It is a play that closed on its opening night. 

You see, if you claim you support the law or the Constitution, you necessarily oppose anything that subverts the democratic process. 

Let's say the Supreme Court rules the mask mandate is unconstitutional. That's fine by me. That is the way our system works. I can and often do disagree with judges and elected officials, but that's no justification for physically removing them and elevating one person over the democratic process. That is what oligarchs and autocrats do, not those who believe in a democratic republic. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

A Daring Ride to Jim Thorpe

Some weeks ago, I invited you to join me on a Sunday bike ride to Jim Thorpe and back. Yesterday was that day. A few of you contacted me, but I honestly had no idea who would be at the Cementon trailhead. Believe it or not, at the ungodly hour of 9 am, four of you were there. It was a great day for a ride along the most beautiful stretch of the D&L Trail. It also became quite an adventure. 

Three of the group were only able to do a portion of the ride and turned around after about 10 miles or so. That left me with one other rider, an Air Force captain. My plan was to ride into Lehighton and turn around there instead of going to Jim Thorpe because Tropical Storm Ida did quite a bit of damage to the canal towpath at Weissport. Parts of the towpath were rumored to be littered with frickin' boulders the size of Blue Mountain. I was bike riding, not mountain climbing. 

Unfortunately, the Air Force CPT outranked me, and wanted to ride into Jim Thorpe and have lunch. He had his wife's credit card, and offered to buy, too. I accepted. 

As you go into Weissport along the D&L, you have to turn off and go up this switchback hill. It is well-marked, but easy to miss. I know because I missed it a few times last year. But I was now a guide and had no problem pointing it out to the aviator on a pre-electric Townie. I kind of felt like Davy Crockett. 

After ascending the hill, you cross a bridge that takes you over the Lehigh River and into the bustling metropolis of Weissport. I hopped into the bike lane, cranked my Cannondale Trail 5 into 10th gear, and flew across the bridge, down a hill, and up a hill to the towpath. But when I turned around, the Air Force was nowhere to be found. I actually backtracked a bit and still didn't see him. Eventually, I got a call and he had somehow lost me. He never saw me when I wizzed by, probably because I broke the sound barrier. After providing directions, he caught up with me.

Just as he was doing so, another guy was leaving the tow path on his bike, having come from Jim Thorpe.

"How's the trail"? I asked.

"Don't do it!" warned the cyclist. "There are rocks and washouts everywhere. It's too dangerous."

Now the guy who gave us this warning had just ridden a trail he considers too dangerous. What's more, the bastard had only one arm. 

"If some guy with only one arm can do it, I think we can do it," said my comrade.

"Yeah, but maybe he lost that arm doing the trail," I answered. 

Like idiots, we forged ahead. Sure enough, there were rocks and washouts everywhere. In fact, I saw an arm lying on the path at one point, waving at us. But we continued in true military fashion. I was feeling quite manly, like Hannibal crossing the Alps. Then we were passed by a few 80-year old ladies who jeered at us as they sped by.   

"Eat my dust!" cackled one of them.

Eventually, we made it to Jim Thorpe, the Mecca of Lehigh Valley cyclists  While there, I posed in front of a gigantic black lump that looks amazingly similar to, though slightly smaller than,  my usual morning deposit. It's anthracite coal. 

We ate at Molly Maguires, which fortunately had no Irish cuisine The Air Force dude kept calling it Murphy's, and when I pointed out his error, he said, "You Irish are all alike!"

That's true. We're all quite gifted, except when it comes to food. Seriously, does mutton sound like anything anyone in his right mind wants to eat? But it is better than haggis, a food created by a dare from none other than Satan himself. 

After lunch, the ride back is pretty much downhill. We were tooling over those rocks and washouts when, suddenly, the Air Force dude realized his saddlebag had been knocked off his bike. In it was his wallet, phone, car keys, a few sidewinders and, worst of all, his military ID. If he loses that, it's a firing squad. 

He quickly turned around and found his bag, which was apparently being dragged away by that lone arm.      

From this point, I tried to stay behind him in the event his bag fell off again. 

My main fear along these trails are the rocks and ruts. His are snakes. He hates them, although he admitted to eating a few on some survival mission with the Air Force.

Snakes never bother me. 

Professional courtesy.

We continued along and then, about three miles from the end of our ride, "Pffffffft!"  The Townie's front tire went flat. Some snake no doubt bit his tire, especially after he admitted to eating them. 

Fortunately, he had a tube and was able to repair it in a few minutes. If that were me, I'd probably still be there. I did help with the pump and provided lots of sage advice. 

All in all, the ride was a blast. What's sad is that the leaves are turning color and there will only be a few left before it becomes to cold. 

Friday, September 10, 2021

Biden's Latest Steps in War Against Covid-19

Yesterday, President Joe Biden announced a six-pronged national strategy designed to extricate ourselves from the pandemic that refuses to go away. Let's lay them out, one-by-one.

1) Vaccination Mandates. This applies to all employers with 100 or more employees; all federal workers and contractors; all health care workers at Medicare or Medicaid funded hospitals; and large entertainment venues. Any employee who declines a vaccine must be tested weekly. 

2) Booster shots for the vaccinated. These will start September 20.

3) Keep schools open, but safe. Some children are too young for a vaccine. Until then, President Biden is calling for universal indoor masking; social distancing;improved ventilation; and regular testing. 

4) Increase testing and masking. - This, combined with the vaccine, will reduce spread. 

5) Support our economy. - Instead of lockdowns, there will be forgivable small business loans. 

6) Enhancing Covid-19 care. - This will be accomplished by increasing monoclonal antibody treatments by 50%.