Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Lehigh County DA Charges Gerlach

The Morning Call and other local news outlets have finally opened their increasingly small mouths to report about Allentown City Council member Ce-Ce Gerlach and her decision to drop a minor off at a tent city. They had no choice. She was charged yesterday with both child endangerment (a first degree misdemeanor) and failure to report suspected child abuse (a second degree misdemeanor).

A first degree misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison as well as a $10,000 fine. A second degree misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison as well as a $5,000 fine.  

At the time of the offense, Gerlach was a caseworker at Valley Youth House. As originally reported by James Whitney at this blog, Gerlach met with a 16 yo runaway who needed a place to stay. Rather than take him to any of a number of shelters, including one operated by her own employer, she dumped him off at a tent city. There he was subjected to two nights of sexual abuse, thanks to Gerlach, 

Whitney contacted Gerlach, who admitted to him that she did drop this teen off at a tent city. She denied she knew he was underage, "so if people want to beat me up for that, they can."

Looks like they have. In addition to these criminal charges, Gerlach finished last in a four-way Mayoral contest on May 18. 

The charges were filed by Lehigh County Detective Gregg M Dietz, who conducted a quite thorough investigation detailed in The Morning Call account.  Significantly, Gerlach's claim she was unaware ofthe boy's age is bellied by her own paperwork. 

Gerlach was preliminarily arraigned before Magisterial District Judge Rashid Santiago. He set bail at $2,500 unsecured. A preliminary hearing, in which the Commonwealth must present prima facia evidence that Gerlach committed a crime, is currently scheduled for August 6 before Magisterial District Judge Karen Devine.  

Gerlach is represented by prominent Allentown criminal defense attorney Ed Angelo. Through him she has denied wrongdoing and refuses "to allow these allegations to distract me from my service to the people of Allentown." 

Service like that Allentown does not need. 

Gerlach sounds eerily similar to another so-called public servant who had to be dragged out of office, kicking and screaming. Former Mayor Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski is currently serving a 15-year sentence for his service. 

Though this blog and fellow blogger Michael Molovinsky had Fed Ed's number in 2007,  The Morning Call refused to take a serious look at his hijinks until the Feds were literally at his door. 

This pattern continued with Gerlach. The paper and other local news sources refused to write a word even though she herself admitted she dropped this boy off at a tent city. That refusal continued when I told you that the Lehigh County District Attorney was investigating. It was a story you needed to hear. 

I suspect this refusal was politically motivated. I saw no hesitation when the paper targeted Congressional candidate Marty Nothstein with a decades old rumor. 

Let's not forget we are dealing with child abuse, a topic far more important than politics. The local media let you down when it refused to cover this story. This reluctance to cast a critical eye toward child caregivers is how little girls like Grace Packer end up dead. Valley Youth House kept Gerlach on their staff until May 10, after the Lehigh County DA began sniffing around.

That's another story.  

Previous stories:

Whitney: Allentown Mayoral Candidate Ce-Ce Gerlach Exposes Minor to Alleged Sexual Abuse

Lehigh County DA Investigating Ce-Ce Gerlach Allegations

Politics, Money and Power: All in the Family for the Harringtons

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Why I Still Wear Masks Indoors

WHO recommends that people, even those who ate fully vaccinated, should continue wearing masks indoors because of concerns about community spread of the virulent Delta variant. I am following that recommendation. The protection masks provide is admittedly limited, but I've noticed I touch my face and rather prominent proboscis less often when I wear them. That makes me less likely for me to infect myself or others.  Plus, I'm told I'm very handsome when masked. Some have even suggested a bag. 

Should Retention Elections Be Abolished for County Judges?

County judges are elected to serve 10-year terms. If they desire to remain in office at the end of their term, they seek retention. Voters vote Yes or No. In my lifetime, I've only seen one judge - Justice Russell Nigro in 2005 - rejected in a retention election. 

The argument for retention, as opposed to re-election, is that judges could be taken to task for unpopular but legally correct decisions. A 10-year term, however, provides lots of insulation. Another argument is that a nonpartisan retention election takes the judge out of politics. But judges are the most political animals I know. 

Since 2012, the County Comm'rs Ass'n of Pa has maintained that county judges should stand for re-election, instead of retention, at the end of their 10-year terms. While this would require a change to the Pa. Constitution, I am sure it would garner wide support, especially if the elections are nonpartisan. A judge should be accountable to the voter. 

Let me add as an aside that I oppose any attempt at so-called "merit selection" of judges. That just takes the politics away from the people and into the hands of a bunch of unelected bluebloods.

What's your take?  

Monday, June 28, 2021

Zero

According to CovidAlertPa, established by the state Department of Health, there were zero new cases of Covid on Sunday in Northampton, Lehigh and Carbon Counties. Monroe reported two, Berks had eight and Bucks had just one. These are the lowest figures I've seen since the state (and counties) began tracking the pandemic. While it's premature to declare victory, we certainly are headed in that direction. 

How many of these new cases are from the vaccinated. Strangely, Pennsylvania fails to track this important data point. According to the Inky, Covid among the vaccinated is tracked in New Jersey, Delaware and Philadelphia. Only two percent  of new Covid-19 cases are among those who've been vaccinated. This means the vaccines approved for emergency use have a combined efficacy rate of 98%.  

Friday, June 25, 2021

Did Biden Just Deliver a Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal?

When he was a candidate, Trump attempted to vilify Joe Biden as a "Sleepy Joe" who hid in his basement from the pandemic. He was ridiculed for wearing a mask and was criticized as both corrupt and incompetent for failing to get anything accomplished during three decades of public service. Now he's President Joe, and has an average 56% approval rating. He's actually on the verge of hammering out a bipartisan infrastructure deal, something he never could have accomplished without his decades of experience. 

You might recall that Trump was supposed to do this in his first term. He actually campaigned on that issue. He explained his expertise: "I own buildings. I'm a builder; I know how to build. Nobody can build like I can build. Nobody. And the builders in New York will tell you that. I build the best product. And my name helps a lot." He did announce a $1.5 trillion plan in 2018, but walked away instead of compromising like Biden did. 

Biden is an adult. 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Supreme Court Upholds Bill of Rights

In a trio of decisions yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld basic freedoms conferred to us in the Bill of Rights.

The most important of these rulings comes from a case that made its way to the High Court from Mahanay School District here in Pa. A high school girl who failed to make the varsity cheerleading squat vented with vulgarities on Snapchat. She did so, not at school, but off campus. The school suspended her from the team. 

In a 8-1 ruling written by Justice Stephen Breyer ruled that a student's off campus speech is generally the responsibility of a student's parents. The school does have an interest in regulating some kinds of off campus speech like bullying or threats.

In a case involving "hot pursuit," a divided Supreme Court ruled that in minor cases, police officers should  generally obtain a warrant before entering someone's home. This is a vindication of the Fourth Amendment. 

Finally, the court ruled 6-3 that state regulation allowing union organizers to come onto an employer's property in an attempt to speak to workers is an unlawful taking of that employer's private property in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The regulation in question allowed organizers to enter the property three hours per day, 120 days per year. It provided no compensation to the owner. 

New Covid Cases Dropping Dramatically in Northampton County

On January 29, there were 448 new Covid-19 cases in Northampton County. Yesterday, according to the County, there were just two new cases. The DOH had the figure at just one. While it's too soon to say whether this is just an anomaly, it certainly is encouraging news. 

The state reports Lehigh County had six new cases yesterday, but it was down to two on June 17. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Following the Money in NorCo Council Races

Five at-large seats on Northampton County Council will be voted on in this year's November 2 municipal election. As of now, five Democrats and five Republicans will square off.  

The five Democrats finished in the May 18 primary as follows: Tara Zrinski - 16,791 votes; Lori Vargo-Heffner - 15,610 votes; Patti Bruno - 14,927 votes; Ron Heckman - 14,773 votes; and Bill McGee - 14,372 votes. Patti Bruno is a newcomer, while the rest are incumbents. 

Ironically, the Democratic candidate who spent the most money in the primary came in last. Bill McGee spent $22,625.56 during the period between May 4 and June 14. This money went to political consultant Celeste Dee ($2,000) and some DC consultant called Bergmann Zwerdling Direct ($16,121.20). These rocket scientists sent a mailer asking voters to re-elect McGee ... to City Council.

I could think of better ways for McGee to raise his visibility than to spend a boatload of money for a mailer asking voters to put a candidate for county council in city government. 

I'll give Bill some advice for free. Start calling yourself Wilhelmina, wear dresses instead of three-piece suits and give yourself a shot or two of estrogen. Democratic voters were obviously voting for women just because that's what they are. Identity politics at its finest. 

Bill still has $16,661.48 in his treasury so he can start the transition now. 

The other member of the penis club in the Democratic primary, Ron Heckman, only did slightly better than McGee. He only spent $75 between 5/19 and 6/7. He also picked up a $2,000 contribution from the Sheet Metal Workers. He goes into the summer with a $3240 warchest. He should probably change his name to Heckwoman. 

Top vote getter Tara "I hate plastic straws" Zrinski spent just $940 during the period between 5/4 and 6/7. But she picked up an electrifying $5,000 contribution from IBEW. That's the kind of green we all like. She marches into the summer solstice with $7,873.95. 

I considered Lori Vargo-Heffner the weakest of the Democrats because she has no base. I never  realized that women were her base. She spent nothing between 5/4 and 6/7, and received a $1,250 contribution from a Maryland-based outfit called Road Sprinklers Filters. Under Pennsylvania law, contributions by corporations or unincorporated associations are illegal. So I find this donation suspect. 

Vargo-Heffner's  campaign treasurer, Becky Bartlett, is an administrator for Executive Lamont McClure. Under the County's Home Rule Charter, employees are generally permitted to engage in political activity. 

Vargo-Heffner has a tidy sum of $13,172 to kick off her general election campaign. 

Newcomer Patti Bruno spent $4,234.72 during the period between 5/4 and 6/7. She also received $1,500 from the Sheet Metal Workers. But she only has $1,522 in her treasury as she prepares for the general. 

The five Republicans finished in the May 18 primary as follows: Scott Hough - 12,973 votes; John Goffredo - 12,720 votes; Kristin Lorah Soldridge - 12,482 votes; Nicole Romanishan - 12,427 votes; and Annamarie Robertone - 11,986 votes. 

The Republican candidate I consider most qualified for County Council is Annamarie Robertone. She is a paramedic and a public health professional, something that would certainly help the County. I saw her speak (remotely) and she impressed me with her passion for Gracedale. Ironically, she came in last. 

During the period between 5/4 and 6/7, Robertone spent $1,216.56. She also received $500 from L Anderson Daub over that time period. She's going to need more to attract open-minded Democrats and independents. Right now she only has $3,195 in her campaign kitty. 

A slate belt Republican who has money and is likely to get more is John Paul Goffredo. During the period between 5/4 and 6/7, he picked up $11,630 in contributions. There's a lot of grass roots support for him in the slate belt in the form of smaller donations. He also received $1,000 from Congressional candidate Lisa Scheller and $500 from State Rep. Joe Emrick. 

I heard him speak, too. He spoke out against Governor Tom Wolf's lockdown. I'd agree. In my opinion, Gov. Wolf was using a sledge hammer when a scalpel was needed. But that has nothing to do with county government. When it came to that, Goffredo spoke out against farmland preservation. I'd agree with the opposition to the purchase of undevelopable swamps and cliffs or the estates of people who are already wealthy. But farmland preservation is much different. The best way to prevent what Lamont McClure calls warehouse proliferation is by preserving as much farmland as we can. It also provides food security. Finally, it has the overwhelming support of the public. It could be that Goffredo, who is a young man, will come around on this topic as he learns more about it.

Goffredo heads into the general with nearly $9,000 in his warchest. 

Scott Hough was the top vote getter among Republicans for one and only one reason - Bethlehem. Yes, there are Republicans in Bethlehem and he got their votes. He's just coming off a loss to Steve "diaper man" Samuelson for State Rep. Hough ran with the "I am not a politician" mantra. 

Looks like he is. Fresh off that loss, he's running for Northampton County Council. He heads into the general with just $1,333 ... and Bethlehem. 

Kistin Lorah Soldridge recently told Lehigh Tp Supervisors that they all need to start descending on County Council because they don't listen. So far as I know, she's never been there. But she has made time to appear on some goofy internet TV show broadcast somewhere in the deep South. She's a Trumper and is allied with goofy Exec candidate Steve Lynch. 

As far as money goes, she is somehow in the hole. She goes into the general election with negative $425. 

Nicole Romanishan hails from Chapman and appears to be another Steve Lynch ally and Trumper, Most of her campaign money comes from her family. She heads into the general with $455. But she's a banker.     

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

NorCo Exec: McClure Ahead of Lynch in Money Race

Incumbent Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure and his Republican rival, personal trainer Steve Lynch, have both filed timely post primary campaign finance reports. Although you never know what will happen in a horse race or an election, McClure is about six lengths ahead as they leave the gate. 

McClure reports that he has $181,192.41 as of June 7, while Lynch has a more modest $19,824.95. But Lynch nearly matched McClure in money raised between May 4 and June 7. McClure received $17,550 in campaign contributions, while Lynch raked in $12,991.45 during the same period. 

Historically, even as a Council member, most of McClure's money comes from trade unions and lawyers at the numerous law firms he got to know while practicing law himself. As Executive, McClure is also accepting donations from people who owe their jobs to him. 

McClure also received $1,000 from DA Terry Houck, who owes nothing to him and has proven to be a very independent prosecutor, exactly like John Morganelli. Houck's sole shortcoming is his use of Richard Huntington Pepper XXIII as an unpaid summer intern.  

Since 2000, and long before I started blogging, I have argued that anyone who contributes to a county campaign should be barred from doing business with the county for a period of two years. I have actually urged Council to adopt an ordinance to that effect. I even drafted one, but it got nowhere. The argument against my proposal is that this arguably violates free speech. Moreover, campaign finance reform should come from the state, not local government. 

McClure also accepted $500 from the King Spry law firm, which was hired last week to do outside legal work for the county. Given the wide number of rival law firms that also contributed to McClure, I highly doubt this modest donation was a motivating factor. It's ridiculous to suggest McClure would sell out for $500. 

As a matter of full disclosure, I will report that one of McClure's contributors is myself. I donated $125 on top of $100 I previously gave. I did so because McClure has been highly effective in his first term as Executive. I am impressed by the way he responded to the Covid-19 pandemic, which includes air purifiers inside the courthouse that kills respiratory viruses. His decision to build a parking lot across the street from the courthouse with a functioning crosswalk indicates he does care about the workers. Now he just needs to pay them.   

Lynch's biggest contributor in this time period is himself. He donated $8,350 in his personal funds to his campaign. His next biggest contributor is Lisa Scheller, for whom he worked as a field director when she ran for Congress against Susan Wild. 

Interestingly, I see no contributions to Lynch from GOP heavyweights like L. Anderson Daub.   

Monday, June 21, 2021

Three Things Peg Ferraro Would Like to See

Peg Ferraro is in her waning days as a member of Northampton County Council. As she transitions into a well-deserved retirement, she has mostly kept her own counsel at meetings. She's perfectly content to let others speak. When she does open her mouth, however, she makes excellent points. She made three of them at Council's Thursday night meeting. In what she called her swan song, she mentioned three things Northampton County needs to do. 

1) Reassessment. - Northampton County last reassessed in 1995. A property's assessment is the basis for all property taxes derived for municipalities and school districts.

Northampton County has had several excuses for failing to do what it really should be doing every ten years. There was the Great Recession, which did depress real estate values. But now there are inequities everywhere. The only way to ensure fairness in taxation is to re-assess. 

Without question, reassessment is expensive. It's also politically unpopular. Although state law specifically requires that the process must be revenue neutral, many property owners will be upset. 

Lehigh County went through this a few years ago, and despite claims of unfairness in some quarters, revenue appeals straightened things out. 

2) A Pay Study. - Like reassessment, this should also be done periodically. The last salary study was done by Executive John Stoffa and only covered career service (nonunion). The results were so controversial that Stoffa decided to just forget about it. 

In the past, the County has had numerous excuses for failing to conduct a salary study. First, it's "very, very expensive." Second, it could give employees false hope of changes that may never occur, which would be bad for morale. Third, county policy requiring a salary study every two years is too frequent.

So what happens every year is a few positions are given substantial raises on the basis that salaries are compressed. County administrators pick and choose the positions of increases. This just causes more disparity and depresses morale.

It is clear to me that one reason why Gracedale has such trouble holding on to people is because, quite simply, salaries are too low. I find it hypocritical that a Democratic County Council and administration piously adopt resolutions calling for a living wage when they fail to pay one. 

Lest you think I'm blaming the Democrats in charge of this County, this problem actually started under the Republican Brackbill administration. That was when the county stopped step increases and started to freeze salaries. Since then, both parties have followed suit, balancing budgets on the backs of underpaid county workers. 

3) A Home Rule Charter Study. - Since its adoption in 1977, the County's Constitution is in serious need of an overhaul. I believe the Executive form of government is superior to the collection of political hacks that would arise if we were to revert to making row offices elected. But  I do agree numerous changes in the Charter are needed. Nearly every Article is flawed. 

Council and Executives are terrified of a home rule study because they worry they could be replaced by a reversion to the Commissioner form of government. 


Keith Groller Snags Dieruff Alumni Award

I was delighted to see Morning Call sportswriter extraordinaire, Keith Groller, recognized by Dieruff High School as one of its Honored Alumni at their commencement ceremony this past weekend. 

Over the years, I've watched him in action at numerous basketball games, including the summer games at Cedar Beach. What really impresses me is the interest he takes in the student athletes. Much like Toomey Anderson, the Dean of Awesome, Keith makes these kids feel good about themselves. He conducts after game interviews which he loads on Twitter. During games, it is actually Keith who often shoots the money shot. 

The Lehigh Valley is blessed with several good sportswriters. I like Keith best because of his emphasis on high school sports. 

I only wish he could clone himself and cover all the games. 

I'd post a pic of him but I'd probably be in violation of about a million copyright laws. 

Friday, June 18, 2021

NorCo Council Approves $15 Million for Small Business Grants

At their meeting lat night, Northampton County Council voted unanimously to adopt Executive Lamont McClure's "rescue plan" responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. "Let's finish the job," he argued. County Council authorized McClure to spend $30 million, all of which came directly from the federal government.   

The county will receive a second installment of $30 million next year. 

The lion's share of this year's money - $15 million - is earmarked for small businesses within the county. "Our small businesses need us," McClure said. Last year, County Council awarded $10.079 million to 766 mom-and-pop shops struggling to keep their heads above water in the middle of a statewide lockdown. Given the success of that program, administered by the Greater Lehigh Valley of Commerce, McClure would like it to continue. He envisions providing help to 1,000 businesses. 

Between the money provided by the CARES Act last year and the American Rescue Plan this year, Northampton County Council will have spent $25 million on small businesses. 

The remaining money is allocated as follows: $5 million for nonprofits; $1 million for the hotel tax grants; $1 million for GrowNorCo grants. (to help local municipalities fund police departments; $1 million for broadband at schools; $6 million rainy day fund for vaccines, testing, hazard pay and the creation of a PPE surplus; and $1 million for EMS and professional firefighter. 

Council approved this allocation without comment.

In other business, Northampton County Council unanimously authorized the Civil Division to offer passport photos to customers who visit the office to apply for a passport. There will be a fee of $10. 

Council also adopted unanimously a resolution prohibiting the use of tobacco products at county-owned playgrounds and similar facilities. So if you see some toddler lighting one up, you can have her tossed. 

Finally, Council voted unanimously to endorse two contracts hiring Bethlehem lawfirm King Spry Herman Fruend & Faul as outside counsel for general outside legal work and worker's compensation cases at fairly modest hourly rates. 


Thursday, June 17, 2021

NorCo Closed Friday For Juneteenth

Earlier today, President Joe Biden signed a Bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday.  It's a celebration of the end of slavery, and the bill declaring it a national holiday was passed with broad bipartisan support. Fourteen House Republicans voted No, but it appears their objections were based on the name of this holiday, not the substance of the bill. In response to this new federal holiday, Executive Lamont McClure has given workers the day off. 

Expect to see most places remain open. This includes stock exchanges, banks and the mail. The USPS  explained it needs time to work the holiday into its schedule. 

Supremes Duck Latest Challenge to Affordable Care Act

In a 7-2 ruling penned by Justice Stephen Breyer, the United States has rejected a challenge to the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, brought by 18 Republican states. You can read the opinion here. Justice Clarence Thomas concurred, while Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented. 

What killed this challenge was the Court's conclusion that the challenging states lacked standing. It declined to rule on the merits of the challenge. "Neither the individual nor the state plaintiffs have shown that the injury they will suffer or have suffered is “fairly traceable” to the “allegedly unlawful conduct” of which they complain," noted Breyer.

In his dissent, Justice Alito grouses this "is the third installment in our epic Affordable Care Act trilogy, and it follows the same pattern as installments one and two. In all three episodes, with the Affordable Care Act facing a serious threat, the Court has pulled off an improbable rescue."

Interestingly, Trump appointees Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett sided with the majority. 

DA Houck Updates NorCo Council on Crime

District Attorney Terry Houck updated Northampton County Council yesterday on the upcoming central court commencing on July 6. This court was established by President Judge Michael Koury, Jr., and will conduct preliminary hearings for jailed defendants. Judge Koury concluded these hearings will be more efficient, secure and cost-effective if held at the courthouse.

DA Houck previously praised Judge Koury's decision, noting this system has worked well in Lehigh and other counties. He did have one concern. He noted that police officers should remain armed at these hearings. He explained "they have a target on their back when they don't have a gun in their holster."  

President Judge Koury apparently agrees. Houck informed Council that Judge Koury is preparing an Order that will enable uniformed police officers to carry their firearm into Courtroom 4, where central court is located. This is only about 50' from where officers currently secure their firearms when they appear at the courthouse. "Judge Koury was all for it," said Houck.  

This has also been a concern of the Northampton County Chiefs of Police, who worry that unarmed uniformed police officers could face retaliation from gangs. 

"When they don't have their sidearm, they're out of uniform," noted Houck. "I think it's dangerous."

Houck indicated that only one county - Allegheny - prohibits all law enforcement officers, even deputy sheriffs from wearing firearms. 

Council member John Cusick also asked Houck about the opioid crisis. Houck said there's been an increase in what he calls a "serious problem" and questions whether the cure, i.e. methadone, might be worse than the disease, i.e. addiction. 

Houck added that fentanyl is fooling drug users. "They're taking these drugs thinking it's one thing, and it's not, and that's what's killing them." 

In response to a question from Council President Lori Vargo-Heffner, Houck indicated that the Courageous Conversations program continues. That program was started in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, and included conversations that included police officers, leaders within communities of color and ordinary citizens. After several large meetings, it was decided to continue in smaller groups. He indicated police departments have an interest in continuing these conversations, but individual departments have manpower issues. 

Council member Ron Heckman told Houck several police officers have told him they are concerned about an increase in gang activity. "It's streaky," the DA responded. He noted gangs come from New York and New Jersey, mostly Jersey. He said that if you "step on it quickly, it usually subsides. And it has subsided lately." He added that the Regional Crime Center (RIIC), located in Allentown, has really helped to combat gang crime. It enables investigators to identify co-conspirators 

"Is it an epidemic? No. But they do wander over here on occasion to sell drugs and when that happens, we usually have violence ... ." 

Houck noted that both Easton and Bethlehem Police Departments have detectives specifically trained for gangs.

Council member Kerry Myers asked Houck to explain whether crime has increased or decreased in the pandemic. "We saw more drug cases and more domestic violence, and that was in direct relation to the pandemic," answered Houck.  He indicated other crimes are down. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

600,000

Yesterday, I told you that Covid-19 cases are trending upward in eight vaccine-hesitant states.  One of you responded, "My God, the horror. Double masks. School, church business closings. More stimulus because fear is infrastructure."

In a country that has suffered 615,000 deaths as of yesterday, I find that dismissive attitude troublesome. 

According to CBSNews, the new Covid-19 cases appearing are mostly among the vaccinate hesitant. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Covid-19 Cases Rise in Eight States

According to The Hill, there's an uptick over the past two weeks in new Covid-19 cases in Alabama, Arkansas, Hawaii, Missouri, Nevada, Texas, Utah and Wyoming. All but Hawaii are below the average vaccination rate. 

GOP Exec Candidate 100% Against Vaccine

Lynch with Tom Carroll,
identified as a racist
in his DA campaign.
Pennsylvania requires school children to obtain a wide variety of vaccines for diseases extending from measles to polio. There are exemptions for medical or religious reasons or on the basis of strong moral or ethical conviction. I am aware of no effort to make the Covid-19 vaccines mandatory on a state or federal level. Employers may have the right to require workers to be inoculated, but few have done so.  Nevertheless, an anti-mask anti-vaccine group calling itself Health Freedom Pennsylvania rallied outside the capitol steps in Harrisburg to decry the "medical tyranny" of the three coronavirus vaccines currently approved for emergency use. Steve Lynch, the GOP nominee for Northampton County Executive, was the final speaker. 

Lynch, who never spent a day in the military, referred to himself as an "absolute constitutional patriot" who is "100% against" the vaccine. He made the following points  

"Bejing Biden [is] sleeping in the basement 80% of the time" "

"We have a mass murderer as a Governor" ... "Rachel Levine and Tom Wolf are mass murderers" ...  "Why aren't they having criminal charges pressed against them?" 

"Our government is infiltrated by bureaucrats that have been bought and paid for by China" 

"The Supreme Court is a joke"  

"All my conspiracy theories are coming true" "They do not have the authority to tell you what you're going to put into your bodies. Stop listening to them." 

"[W]e're not violent"  

If Steve Lynch were county executive when Covid-19 hit, Gracedale's census would be zero. 

Monday, June 14, 2021

Should I Be Liable For What My Readers Say?

This may come as a hock to you, but I was sued for libel a few years ago. I do say some outrageous things from time to time. I also sometimes get my facts wrong, although I try to be accurate This lawsuit, however, was based on nothing I said. It was instead premised on some ugly anonymous comments posted by readers before I began moderating this blog. I understand that I am responsible for my own remarks, but should I be held liable for what others say?

Judge Anthony Beltrami said No. He based his decision on Section 230 of the strangely named Communications Decency Act [CDA]. That's a federal law designed to encourage online debate. It was the first definite ruling on a blogger's liability for comments by others in Pennsylvania.. Judge Beltrami's ruling was noticed in several prominent legal circles.  

Now there's a movement, mostly from conservatives, demanding the repeal of Section 230. What they apparently fail to realize is that they are shooting themselves in the foot. Without Section 230, Facebook and numerous group administrators would be held responsible for what others say. They would be forced to shut down. This blog would have to end as well. Even though I've been forced to play comment cop, Google would never agree to assume liability for my mistakes. 

I'd support a reform of Section 230, but not a repeal. To the extent we can do so, I think we need to encourage the free and open exchange of ideas. In fact, I only moderate this blog because of one person intent on preventing that free exchange. 

Friday, June 11, 2021

Pa. GOP Proposes Election Law Changes

Yesterday, I told you that county officials statewide have been frustrated by the state's failure to tweak our election laws. As luck would have it, state GOP legislators proposed some major changes yesterday. Though Governor Wolf and Democrats are already complaining, most of the changes are really noncontroversial and will help county elections officials. 

SpotlightPa lists these changes as follows: 

  • Require every voter to present ID at the polls - This is the most controversial change. Democrats have maintained for years that minorities and persons with limited income often lack ID. That may have been true decades ago, but these days, everyone has ID. As an election judge, members of both parties often insisted on presenting ID, even though it was unnecessary. While I doubt that an ID requirement is really needed to prevent someone from impersonating another voter, it will give Republicans more faith in our elections.   

  • Allow counties to begin processing and counting mail ballots — what’s known as “pre-canvassing” — five days before Election Day - County elections officials have been begging for this head start so they can complete the county as soon as possible after the polls close. 

  • Create six days of in-person early voting, beginning after the 2024 presidential election - There was a long line of early voters before the 2020 Presidential. This stressed an elections office that was burdened with numerous other tasks. 

  • Allow mail ballot drop boxes for seven days before Election Day

  • Move the voter registration deadline to 30 days before Election Day, from 15 -  When a person registers 15 days before an election, it is often too late for registration information to be placed in pollbooks. I have encountered numerous voters from both parties who had registration cards but were not in the system.  

  • Move the deadline for requesting mail ballots to 15 days before Election Day, from seven. -  We now know that numerous voters who wait until the last minute to apply for an absentee will end up having to go to the polls on election day and vote provisionally.  Extending the cut-off date ensures those who apply for a mail-in ballot will actually get them before the election.  

  • Allow voters to fix — or “cure” — mail ballots with missing signatures. - This was a major problem in the Presidential.  

  • Ban counties from accepting private donations for election administration. - This appears to be an overreaction to Facebook's donations to numerous counties to cover Covid-related expenses. 

Thursday, June 10, 2021

County Officials Frustrated by State Inaction on Election Priorities

Since the Presidential election, state legislators (aka sore losers) have conducted numerous hearings on our election. They've heard from Sore-Loser-in-Chief Donald Trump. They listened attentively to Rudy  Giuliani. And have done nothing. What they should be doing is addressing two problems identified by the county officials who actually count the votes. 

First, state legislators need to allow elections officials to begin the pre-canvass of mail-in ballots (MIB) a few days before the actual election. The County Comm'rs Ass'n of Pa. would like to begin the process three weeks before election day. I'd agree that's too long. It's likely that word would leak out and this could affect the election. But I believe a strictly controlled process, starting three days before the election, would worker. To prevent a leak, the elections officials involved could be sequestered, just like a jury, until the polls close. 

Second, the cut-off to apply for  MIB needs to end earlier than it does now. Currently, a voter can apply for a MIB as late as seven days before the election. This requires elections officials to process and mail the ballot. The post office is also rushed. As you might expect, some voters will get their MIB after the election. Many who get tired of waiting will go to the polls and vote provisionally, which burdens pollworkers and is often completed with mistakes. The cut-off to apply for a MIB should be two weeks prior to the election.  

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

NorCo Offering Vaccines at Drive-Thru Testing Center

As soon as Covid-19 tests became readily available, Northampton County established a drive-through Covid-19 testing center. Now, you can get vaccinated there as well. 

This testing and vaccination center is located at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Coordinated Health Allentown Hospital (LVH-CHA). This is located at 3100 Emrick Boulevard in Bethlehem Township with hours of operation of Monday/Wednesday/Friday from 10:00AM – 2:00PM and Tuesday/Thursday from 3:00PM – 6:00PM.

You need an appointment for a vaccine. You have three options:

  1. Schedule at the LVHN website at LVHN.org/appointments.
  2. Schedule on the MyLVHN patient portal, at MyLVHN.org.
  3. Call 833-584-6283 (833-LVHN-CVD). The COVID-19 Vaccine Hotline is open Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

According to Executive Lamont McClure, drive-throughs are very convenient, especially for anyone with a mobility problem.

Two vaccines - Moderna and the single dose Johnson and Johnson - are being offered. 

Republican Executive candidate Steve Lynch has blasted vaccines, asserting the virus was created by the government so they can force you to submit to DNA-altering inoculations. This is highly irresponsible. People who listen to him could die. 

McClure has a different take. "Vaccines have the power to save both lives and livelihoods and Northampton County is committed to making sure our residents have every opportunity to get vaccinated.”

As the number of vaccinated people has increased in NorCo, new Covid-19 cases have plummeted. I'm no epidemiologist, but it certainly appears the vaccine is working. 

It's certainly working at Gracedale, where new Covid-19 cases have vanished. I hate to think what the death toll would be at our nursing home if an anti-masker and anti-vaxer like Lynch were running the county. 

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Pundits Outraged By Senator Joe Manchin's Centrism, Bipartisanship

Joe Manchin is a centrist Democrat in conservative West Virginia. He has consistently made clear he opposes an end to the filibuster. He also prefers bipartisanship over ramming legislation down the throats of a significantly large number of people. His stance, one of reason and moderation, is enraging the unreasonable and extreme. These are the talking heads of the left, who are just as outrageous as those on the right. 

Check out these screaming headlines:

Washington Post - "How Joe Manchin's awful new stance could blow up in his face"

Signorile Report - "Are we going to let Joe Manchin sink democracy?"

Raw Story - "Steve Bannon pushes ‘major effort’ to ‘bring Joe Manchin into the Republican party’"

Newsweek - MSNBC host Mehdi Hhasan questions Joe Manchin's intelligence - 'just not very bright'"

These are neither news stories nor editorials. They are rank partisan pieces aimed at those within their bubble. 

Monday, June 07, 2021

Lehigh Tp: We Don't Need No Stinkin' MIBs

Thanks to a reader, I learned that Lehigh Tp Supervisors unanimously adopted a resolution on May 11, indicating they will refuse to recognize mail-in ballots (MIBs). Supervisor Cindy Miller, herself a former State Rep. candidate, indicated she intends to present it in person. But she's presenting it to the wrong body. Northampton County Council has nothing to do with recent changes made to election law made by a Republican-controlled state legislature. If Northampton County officials refused to accept MIBs, they themselves would be suppressing the vote and violating state and federal law. I believe what really bothers Lehigh Tp Supervisors is that, thanks to MIBs, more people are voting.

According to the meeting minutes, "The problem [Miller] has with the mail in ballots is the way they are distributed. Her son moved away five years ago and he received mail in ballots and registrations not only from Northampton County, but also mail from Ohio telling him to fill it out and send it to the County. Anyone could have filled it out and mail it in and he is no longer a resident of Northampton County. The companies who are sending the mass mailings of these mail in ballots have no idea who the people are."

What Miller is referring to are applications for MIBs, not the ballots themselves. The only entity that has the legal authority to send a ballot is the Northampton County elections office. That office refuses to send out applications unless they are first requested. 

It's true that both the Republican party and PACs on the left and right mailed unsolicited ballot applications prior to the last Presidential election. But they were only applications. 

Miller also claimed, according to the meeting minutes, that the "County government is not supporting this county. She watched what took place with the last election. It is not bipartisan. There is one party representing the entire election department of the County. They eliminated the bipartisanship last year. There are a lot of elections within our County. This resolution is to make a point and say to the County Council, enough is enough, you need to start talking to the people and listening to what they want."

This is simply false. Northampton County's Elections Commission is, by definition, bipartisan. It is made up of three members of the majority party and two members of the minority party. In 2020, tha majority Democrats actually appointed Maude Hornick, a Republican and sister of the GOP boss, as Chair of the Elections Commission. 

In the canvass of the Presidential election, GOP party boss Lee Snover objected to just about every Democrat vote she could. The Elections Commission conducted lengthy hearings, and sustained some while rejecting others.

Their decision could have been challenged ion court, but nothing was filed. 

GOP party boss Lee Snover complained at a legislative hearing and on a TV show about election fraud in Northampton County. But she failed to complain in court - the one place where it would have mattered.  

This baseless  challenge to the integrity of our elections will no doubt be an election issue. It's coming from (1) sore losers who hate that Trump lost and (2) bigots who want to make it impossible for minorities and the poor to vote. 

Friday, June 04, 2021

McClure Wants $15 Million For Small Business

Over the course of last year's annus horribilis, Northampton County awarded $10.079 million to 766  small businesses struggling to stay afloat amid the ravages of both Covid-19 and a lockdown. This money was courtesy of $27.6 million in CARES Act funding. Now there's a new source of funding - $31 million from the American Rescue Plan. If Executive Lamont McClure has his way, $15 million of that federal windfall will go to the county's small businesses. 

In his report to Northampton County Council at their June 3 meeting, McClure said priority will be given to first-time applicants. But he'd also like to see a round of grants to businesses that have already received funding. "There are some previous grantees who are still struggling," he observed.

In addition to the $15 million for small business, McClure will be asking County Council to give their imprimitur to the following additional spending:

$5 million for nonprofits. - "As you know, the nonprofits were hit particularly hard during the pandemic. We didn't have enough CARES Act funding to, in my view, adequately assist the nonprofits. 

$1 million for the hotel tax grants. - This will be going to fairs and "other small events that need our assistance." 

$1 million for GrowNorCo grants. - This will help local municipalities who wish to fund police departments.

$1 million for broadband. - "We have too many students ... that did not have access sufficient to meet their educational needs." 

$7 million rainy day fund. This will be used to fund vaccines, testing, hazard pay and the creation of a PPE surplus.   

$1 million for EMS and professional firefighters.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

NorCo's Elections Results Now Official, But Nearly 10% of MIBs Rejected

At a meeting yesterday afternoon, Northampton County's Elections Commission voted to certify the results of the May 18 municipal primary election. The vote to certify was cast by the Democratic members of the Commission -  Dr. Alan Brau, Daniel Lopresti and Gail W Preuninger. Republicans Maudenia Hornick and Frank L DeVito, who also are members of the Commission, were both absent.

In her report, Registrar Amy Cozze indicated there were 45,631 voters in the municipal primary, which included 16,010 mail-in ballots (MIBs). This is nearly twice the turnout in the last municipal primary in 2019. That was prior to the advent of no-excuse MIBs. "We have increased our turnout quite a bit," she remarked

Cozze told the board that there were fewer naked ballots than there were in the Presidential election last year. But now there's a new problem. Nearly 10% of the MIBs were undated. Under Pennsylvania law, those ballots had to be rejected. 

The MIBs were counted  by 3 pm on election day.  The remaining votes were counted and on the website, unofficially, within about two hours after polls closed. Cozze also conducted a two per cent audit of the ballots cast, which was 100% accurate. In addition, a risk-limiting audit is being done statewide. 

Commissioner Dr. Alan Brau and Gail Preuninger suggested the elections office increase its efforts to make sure MIBs are dated. Although Cozze indicated her staff has fairly detailed instructions, she intends to make the importance of dating MIBs more clear prior to the general election. 

Daniel Lopresti noted that, in the Presidential, he received emails from the Department of State concerning his application for a MIB. But in this primary, he received no confirmatory emails. Registrar Cozze noted that this function is handled by the Department of State, and has been "hit or miss" this cycle. She indicated anyone concerned about a MIB can call her office. 

Solicitor Richard Santee told the Commission that, on his end, it was a "quiet" day. Issues did arise in one unspecified race, but Santee said they were resolved. Though he did not say so, Santee was referring to an overeager pollworker who insisted on assisting a Spanish-speaking voter against her wishes in the South Bethlehem magisterial race. 

No other election day problems were discussed. But there were some minor issues. Some of the machines experienced paper jams. Those were fixed, and the machines have been flagged for inspection. Two election judges pulled the flash drives from voting machines before the polls closed, but no votes were lost because of the paper ballot backup.  

Cozze did advise that she wants to hire a new printer to prepare ballots for the general election and will be issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP). 

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Covid-19 Cases Plunging in Lehigh Valley

According to the state Department of Health, there were only seven new cases of Covid-19 reported in Lehigh County on Tuesday. In Northampton County, there were just three, although the county GIS places the count at eight. Whether it's three or eight, it's still a precipitous drop from the record-high 448 new cases reported on January 29. More importantly, it appears to be a downward trend that has gone on for about the past month. 

Statewide, the positivity rate on Covid-19 has dipped to 3.9%, below the 5% threshold at which public health officials become concerned about community spread.  

Since we've begun tacking them, there have been 75,346 Covid-19 cases in the Lehigh Valley. (Lehigh - 39,644; Northampton - 35,702). This amounts to 11.11% of the combined population (677,963) of both counties. 

The disease infected over 10% of the population. 

Unfortunately, there have also been 1,564 Covid-19 deaths in the Lehigh Valley. (Lehigh - 853; Northampton - 711).  It has killed two per cent of those infected, but has only killed 0.23% of the combined population of both counties.

I decline to state why there has been a decline. That determination is above my paygrade. But for the first time in a year, things are looking up. 

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Tulsa's Tale is One of Prejudice by Whites, Blacks and Native Americans

Smithsonian has an excellent article about the Tulsa Massacre, which actually started 100 years ago today at 5:08 am. A whistle from a train or factory served as the signal for about 10,000 white people to obliterate a 35 square block area of a prosperous black community known as Greenwood. The grisly death toll is around 300. It explains what happened. Another article in  the same issue, entitled The Truth About Tulsa, describes the social roots of this racial atrocity. I'm unable to find an Internet link, but will summarize it for you. It is a tale of prejudice by blacks, whites and Native Americans. It starts with the Trail of Tears and ends in an elevator. 

The root cause of this tragedy goes back to slave owner Andrew Jackson and his Trail of Tears. This ethnic cleansing forced five native American tribes from their lands in the east to what was then known as the Twin Territories. 

These very same tribes, who themselves were treated so harshly, though nothing of enslaving blacks and treating them just as harshly as a Georgian plantation owner. They even sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War.    

After the war was over, these tribes granted their former slaves citizenship and autonomy. These former slaves and their descendants were called freedman, and worked communally with the native Americans. There were a few brief moments of freedom. 

Of course, the well-meaning federal government screwed that up. Officials objected to the notion of sharing resources. The five tribes were forced to convert communal lands into privately owned individual parcels. 

Ideally, this should have benefited both native Americans and freedmen. But if a parcel was prosperous or held oil, whit guardians were appointed to manage the affairs of these minorities. Of course, this was little more than a license to steal. 

Around this time, a movement for statehood began. White settlers and "state Negroes," as the freedmen called them, began to move in. The freedmen resented the state Negroes as interlopers and, at times, would shoot out the windows of their homes at night. 

As whites continued to move in, they created "sundown towns," where no black person was welcome at night. They also began working on a Constitution, a prerequisite for statehood. It was a document that set up the procedures for segregation once statehood was recognized. It made no difference if you were a "state Negro" or "freedman." You'd be screwed. 

A coalition of black leaders made the trip to Washington and met with Teddy Roosevelt. They opposed a constitution that specifically permitted school segregation. Roosevelt had misgivings, but issued a proclamation turning the twin territories into the 46th State of Oklahoma. 

Blacks formed their own area - Greenwood - because they were unwelcome anywhere else. 

And then a young black guy had an innocuous encounter with a white elevator girl. 

The rest is history. 

Appalachian Trail Challenge: May Report

On January 17, I started on a virtual Appalachian Trail challenge. Any distance based exercise count along this 2,190-mile journey. This includes walking, running, cycling, canoeing, elliptical or arc trainer, rowing, etc. Two friends are also doing this, although they have different starting dates.

As the weather has improved, I expected my mileage  to increase. I  had a bad May because the election coverage took something out of me, and I also suffered a brief bout of dehydration. Here's the data, starting January 17.

January - 132.72 miles

February - 220.45 miles

March - 247.03 miles

April - 304.64 miles. 

May - 271.63 miles

The friend who started earlier than me has only about 400 miles to go. But I'm claiming fraud and will demand an audit of his mileage. I am still averaging averaging 8.7. 

Another friend started after me on March 1, and has logged in 521.6 miles. His daily average is 8.6.

I better pick it up.