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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, February 28, 2022

What's Your Take on Putin's Invasion of Ukraine?

I am sure was the case with many of you, I spent most of the weekend reading and watching as much about the Ukraine invasion as I could. I was unimpressed by American accounts that invariably faded into one side or the other of the Trump-Biden culture war. What impressed me most were European and Indian news accounts from WION, France 24 and DW News, all of which were streaming on YouTube.  Most of the world (with some notable exceptions) have united in condemning Putin's belligerence. Ironically, his use of force has united Europe and America in ways no one would have thought possible.

Germany has reversed its long-standing revulsion at defense spending. It will now be spending 2% of its GDP on the military, something Trump urged them to do during his time in office. France has actually seized a cargo ship bound for Russia, and nearly all of Europe is denying Russia the use of its airspace. 

At the same time, Putin has managed to lionize Volodymyr Zelensky, an erstwhile comedian who has rallied his countrymen (and much of the world) in resistance to authoritarian rule. Even as the Russian military made its way to Kyiv, he has resolutely refused to flee. 

Putin had predicted that his soldiers would be greeted by Ukranians with flowers. Instead, it's been Molotov cocktails. One resident actually knelt in front of an approaching Russian tank. 

As of Sunday afternoon,it appears that Russian forced have yet to occupy a single large city in a country whose defense is considerably weaker. Inexplicably, Putin has placed his country on nuclear alert even though Ukraine possesses no nuclear weapons. He also called Ukranians Nazis, even though Zelensky is Jewish. 

I acknowledge I am no expert on international affairs. but it seems to me that OPutin has blundered badly and has diminished himself in the eyes of the world. What is your take? 

Friday, February 25, 2022

Whitney On Allentown's Responsible Contractor Ordinance: Will Tuerk Veto?

Blogger's Note: Allentown City Council has recently adopted a "responsible contractor" ordinance that might actually be irresponsible government. The law, which is sitting on Mayor Tuerk's desk waiting for his signature, limits all city contracts over $100,000 to contractors with Class A apprenticeship programs. Moreover, these programs must have been in existence for several years, This essentially guarantees that the work will be limited to trade unions.  Union labor is expensive, I'm told ad high as $85 per hour. This is way beyond a living wage. While the intentions are good, this will limit the number of bidders for city work while driving up cost. Allentown's James Whitney weighs in on this new ordinance. 

On February 16, 2022 Allentown City Council passed a Responsible Contractors Ordinance (RCO) in a 4 to 3 vote with CeCe Gerlach, Ed Zucal, Josh Seigel and Natalie Santos all voting in favor of the ordinance. However, Matt Tuerk has indicated that he may be forced to veto the ordinance because parts of the final legislation appear to be copied and pasted from Lehigh County’s Administrative Code, and not revised for application in Allentown. When asked if he agreed that the ordinance was an example of copy and paste legislation, Mayor Tuerk said “It’s so copy and paste that it refers to ‘section 801.2’, which isn’t even a part of the Allentown charter.” He indicated there are other errors in the bill which need to be fixed before it could be implemented in Allentown. “I’m vetoing it” he said.

The portion of the new ordinance that refers to section 801.2 states “Every construction contract shall adhere to the “Required Conditions for all Contracts” outlined in Section 801.2.” When asked what document “section 801.2” is referring to, City Council Member Ed Zucal, who voted for, and co-sponsored the bill, said “I don't know. I'll check that out for you.” Aside from conversations around whether politicians should know what's in the bills they’re voting on, local business owners  and some elected officials are also questioning whether now is the right time to be passing legislation that limits the labor pool that Allentown depends on for its public works projects. “I needed time to examine how this ordinance would affect the small business community, but they wouldn't give that to me.”  

In the business community, some are concerned that in an already constricted labor environment, limiting the pool of eligible contractors may cause important public works and city infrastructure projects to  remain undone and underfunded, or that the Allentown taxpayer could bear the cost of constricted labor supply. Neither potential outcome seems favorable for Allentown’s economy or for residents who are still feeling the effects of a 27% property tax increase levied in 2018. 

Community leaders are also concerned how this RCO might affect equitable access to the highly competitive public works bidding process. When asked for comment for this article, Kevin Easterling, CEO of Black Heritage Association of the Lehigh Valley said “This piece of legislation appears to be written for the benefit of the unions, and historically there have been barriers of entry into those unions by both low income contractors as well as companies owned by people of color.” 

As Allentown emerges from the pandemic and into an economy strained by inflation, supply chain disruption and a national labor shortage, it remains to be seen how this ordinance could potentially affect Allentown’s small business community, equitable access to the public works bidding process, affordable housing and tax rates. But beyond those issues, another concern is growing within city hall. Three city officials, who agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity, all said that this feels like a return to the Pawlowski era of Allentown politics. Whether or not that’s true also remains to be seen> Their willingness to speak only with anonymity and the recent resignation of at least one department head implies that perhaps they may be onto something. 

What Bike Is Best For an Old Fart?

Earlier this week, I chronicled my first bicycle ride in 2022. I was actually out twice this week, but am sticking to the bike paths. When it gets warmer and lighter, I'll pretty much be riding (instead of driving) everywhere I can. Given the predicted rise in gas prices, I might have lots of company.

One of my readers asks, "I'm your age and want to start riding this spring. What type of bike do you recommend since I am new to riding?"

I have several readers who are avid cyclists and far more qualified than I am to answer this question. But since being unqualified has never stopped me from holding forth on every topic under the sun, I'll attempt an answer.

E-Bikes are great. I see them on bike paths all the time, and most riders are elderly. You can fly by at 12-15 mph, and with pedal assist, get some exercise at the same time. The drawback is that they are very heavy, even with all the latest technology. You need a more specialized bike rack if you want to take one to a trail. They are also expensive. If I could afford it, I'd add one to my fleet. 

As I've aged, I am far less nimble than I was even 10 years ago. So getting on and off my bikes is always a struggle. It's not easy to swing a leg over the bar. I'd recommend a low-step frame like the Verve 2 low-step hybrid by Trek.  You can take that on the road or trail. 

The most important recommendation is that you wear a helmet. Many years ago, I shunned helmets. That disdain stopped after I went into a slide while racing kids and bashed my head into a wooden fence. I woke up in an ambulance. Since then, a helmet has protected me from serious injuries during inevitable falls. 

In addition to the helmet, get a spare tube you can slip under your saddle and a pump you can attach to the side.

Finally, I'd recommend that you take a cycling safety course occasionally offered by CAT. I did that years ago when Steve Schmitt was running the show. That dude would wear earphones while cycling so he could ignore irate drivers. I prefer to know they're there. 

Work into it gradually. It might not seem like much effort, but you burn a lit of calories riding. 

Thanks for asking. 

Our Oil Dependency Is What Really Emboldens Putin

I was disappointed to see so many comments yesterday blaming Putin's aggression in Ukraine on Trump or Biden.  These really miss the point. What really is emboldening Mad Vlad is our global dependence on fossil fuel. Although we certainly can become self-sufficient, we and Europe currently rely on Russian oil. Even though we have taken pokes at Russia's economy with the latest set of sanctions, we've steered clear of an actual embargo on oil imports. The one country that has taken the most damaging action is Germany, which has halted a gas pipeline from Russia.

Without a doubt, an embargo on Russian oil  would stop Putin. But it would also cripple a public used to cheap oil. Although we've been told that development of alternative sources of energy is a matter of national security, we've ignored the warnings. 

Seniors can ride the bus free, something I like to do. In addition, it is relatively easy to cycle to many places in the Lehigh Valley. We need to get away from an oil economy. 

Thursday, February 24, 2022

We Owe Vladimir Putin Our Thanks

On the campaign trail and in his early days as President, Joe Biden stressed the need for all of us - Democrat and Republican - to come together. Unfortunately, we were too polarized for that to happen. So when Russian began massing troops along the Ukraine border, right wing pundits claimed it was nothing more than a "wag the dog" attempt by Biden to raise his falling poll numbers. With only a few exceptions, those voices are muted now. Instead of screaming that Biden has manufactured a crisis, AM talk radio is encouraging truckers to disrupt our economy. They are now strangely silent about Ukraine. 

Fortunately, most Democrats and Republicans now see that Biden was truthful. Vladimir Putin has managed to accomplish what no one else has been able to achieve. He's managed to push Democrats and Republicans together. As a bonus, he's managed to unite our European allies. 

Thanks, Vlad.  

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

County Workforce Issues Are a National Problem

Late last year, Northampton County set aside $450,000 that was, in part, intended for a pay study. It has so far taken no action, and Executive Lamont McClure has done little to address employee salaries during his first four years in office. He is considering a childcare center at Gracedale, but has done little to actually retain people

As noted in Governing, public sector employees are facing issues that simply are nonexistent in the private realm. Elections workers have been dealing with abusive messages and emails along with completely unsubstantiated claims of corruption by sore losers like defeated Exec candidate Steve Lynch. Workers in the PFA office are exposed on a daily basis to the ugly side of domestic abuse. Staff in  Children and Youth encounter neglected and abused children daily. Corrections officers work long hours, some of it mandated, yet must maintain peak physical and mental acuity to prevent inmates who wish to harm themselves or others. Gracedale, which at one time prided itself on taking everyone, is now limiting admissions because its ability to provide resident care is below state standards. Even the law librarian must deal daily with people who expect her to draft their complaints and petitions. 

Here's what some counties are doing.

Mental Health - Larry Johnson, DeKalb County, Ga., commissioner and NACo president: We have a pilot program that we had started with election workers, because this has become a mental challenge, dealing with threats and things of that nature. We have worked with our sheriff’s department, our library system, our fire department — we tried to make it as collaborative as possible, because everybody has to deal with this type of stress in the workplace and at home or in the community. Sometimes you have to have someone in the community or in the workplace that can alert other people that something is just not quite right with my worker X — what can I do, I noticed symptoms, I noticed signs, how can I prevent an anxiety attack or something that may go further?

Pay and Benefits - Johnson: : I’m trying to be creative. One thing we’re doing is that, with public safety first, we’re raising the salary of all of those in the police and fire departments. We’ve given them a 6 percent raise and a $3,000 retention bonus. We also raised the pension with a 3 percent match to a 6 percent match. We were doing a 12.5 percent increase in frontline pay with the CARES money, so now we’re going to make that permanent, as we try to make sure we recruit and retain the best officers.

Matt Chase, Nat'l Ass'n of Counties Exec Director: We have created a network of county administrators, HR directors and others, including elected officials, who are really focused on workforce retention. We have a ton of counties that are down major numbers of full-time equivalent employees that are really working to be more creative with things like remote workforce, alternative schedules, pay and benefits, and redoing job classifications. Leon County, Fla., just did some old school county job fairs, where they actually hired people on the spot that day, when normally it would have taken three months to do interviews and background checks. They totally flipped their hiring system to move much quicker. They’re still doing the background checks and other things, but they kind of do it on the back end.

Gracedale has worked at same-day hiring and alternative schedules, but the county has shied away from other ideas. An attempt at remote working was an abject failure during the pandemic, but this is simply because employees needed training. A systematic look at salary compression and job classifications could come from a pay study. It is really needed. 

I have to caution that a pay study is going to be controversial and suspect that's one reason why none has been done. But that;s why Career Service Regs provide for appeals. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

First Bike Ride of 2022


Although I can (and have) ridden 100 miles on the hottest days of the year, I have problems once it gets cold. I can still ride, but it's no longer fun. So I usually walk, jog and hit the gym. Yesterday was the first time that I was able to ride outside this year, and it felt great. I texted a cycling buddy to brag, but he had just been out himself. 

Spring is coming!  

Dems Drop Congressional Staffer for NorCo Elections Comm'n

In Northampton County, the Elections Commission consists of five members. Three are members of the party receiving the most votes in the most recent general election, with the remaining two coming from the party receiving the second highest number of votes. The names are submitted by party bosses. Each party is supposed to submit five names. They are confirmed by County Council for a two-year term.  Candidates and elected officials (even elected party officials) are banned from serving. But what about someone who is employed by an elected official seeking re-election? That's what happened two weeks ago when Council was asked to confirm someone who works for U.S. Rep. Susan Wild. 

Though the Home Rule Charter's prohibition only applies to candidates or elected officials, it's pretty obvious that the appointment of someone who works for a candidate seeking re-election would undermine public confidence in the integrity of our elections system. Council member Kerry Myers wanted to go ahead and appoint this person anyway because she is black. Insisting on a conflicted person just because of one's race is itself racist.

Myers acually threatened recrimination against Council members who refuse to endorse this nominee. "If you want to go down that road, be my guest. But be prepared to take the heat for it," he barked.

He did succeed in intimidationg fellow Council members Kevin Lott and Ron Heckman, but the remaining Council members tabled the nomination.

Guess what? last week, County Council unanimously confirmed another naminee who happens to be black and female, but who does not work for Congressman Susan Wild.

Was that so hard?

Whether it is the Supreme Courtor the Elections Comm'n, the first question should always be whetehr the nominee is qualified, not her race.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Thode: A Covid Surge Comparison

Blogger's Note: Steve Thode has been tracking the pandemic since its inception.  In his latest report, he compares the COVID-19 surge last winter with this winter. As we all know, this winter was much worse.  

Here is a recap of the Winter 20-21 and Winter 21-22 COVID surges in Lehigh and Northampton counties combined.

I'll recap using three charts.

The first chart is a comparison of the 7-Day New COVID case rates for the time period December 4 to February 16 for each winter. Here's the chart:

During the winter of 20-21, the 7-Day New Case rate peaked at 4,349 new cases reported on January 12, 2021; during the winter of 21-22, the 7-Day New Case rate peaked at 17,266 new cases reported on January 11, 2022. So, the winter peak in 21-22 was nearly four times as high as the winter peak in 20-21. After the peak, 7-Day New Case rates dropped rapidly this winter, declining to 3,375 reported on February 1 - a drop of more than 80% from the peak. Since cases are reported as of midnight the day before, the February 1 report is as of January 31. I declare the Winter 21-22 surge ended on January 31, 2022. As you can see, the 7-Day New Case rate has continued to decline rapidly. As of Wednesday, February 16, the 7-Day New Case rate has dropped to 816 - a decline of more than 95% from the peak; and, the lowest 7-Day New Case rate since August 10, 2021. Last year, the 7-Day New Case rate didn't drop to 816 until May 11, 2021.

How deadly were the Winter 20-21 and Winter 21-22 COVID surges? I present two charts.

This next chart is Cumulative New Cases beginning on December 4 of each winter through January 31 of each of each winter; and, Cumulative New Deaths beginning and ending 10 days later (assuming a lag between a positive COVID test and subsequent death). Here's the chart:

Over this time period, the Winter 21-22 surge produced more than twice as many new cases as did the same time period during Winter 20-21. However, this winter's surge produced substantially fewer deaths than last winter. Over this time period last winter, approximately 1.85% of those who tested positive subsequently died. This winter, the death rate was 0.61% over this time frame. So, this winter the mortality rate was only about 33% of the mortality rate last winter.

The above chart and stats are a mixture of Delta and Omicron cases and deaths this winter. So, let's focus on the Omicron segment of this winter's surge. No one knows exactly when Omicron became the dominant variant, but most authorities suggest it was sometime in mid-December 2021. Looking at the data on reported cases, the number of new reported COVID cases became consistently higher this winter than last winter on December 17, so I have chosen to recast the data from the previous chart using December 17 as the start of the "Omicron Surge" in cases; and, December 27 as the starting date for "Omicron Surge" deaths. Here's the chart:

For this time frame, new cases reported in Winter 21-22 were almost two-and-a-half times the number of new cases reported in Winter 20-21. Meanwhile, recorded deaths were substantially lower. Over this time period last winter, approximately 1.86% of those who tested positive subsequently died. This winter, the death rate was 0.57% over this time frame. So, the "Omicron Surge" this winter had a mortality rate that was only about 31% of the mortality rate during last winter's "Delta Surge."

As always, some data limitations are in order. The actual number of positive COVID cases this winter was likely much higher than the reported number due to: the wider availability of home tests (some people got a positive result from a home test but suffered only mild or no symptoms and didn't report the result); and, the number of people who contracted COVID but were asymptomatic and didn't get tested.

As for using using a 10 day lag between reported cases and recorded deaths, we know some deaths occur soon after a positive test while some deaths may occur weeks after a positive test. However, as far as I know, no one reports the actual time frame between diagnosis and death for those who died from COVID. I did try using different lags, but all showed essentially similar death rates.

Finally, I will note that the number of recorded deaths through February 10 for this winter's surge may be subject to a minor upward revision due to possible delays in recorded deaths. However, both the Lehigh County Coroner and the Northampton County Coroner have been quite prompt in recording COVID deaths.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Small Business Owners Discuss Negative Impact of Pandemic

For the past two meetings, a coterie of small business owners have appeared before Northampton County Council to discuss the small business grants received as a result of the pandemic. This program will end once federal funds have been exhausted, but no one on County Council has suggested this program end earlier than then. Someone obviously instigated these small business owners to appear. I declined to write about this two weeks ago because I felt these mom 'n pops were being used. But I am writing about it now to share how the pandemic has hurt these businesses. 

The two brothers who own Aman's Artisan Indian Cuisine (I lack the correct spelling of their names) were  the first in the prisoner's dock. They indicated that, while Covid might be over, the inflationary effects is hurting the restaurant business. Before Covid, a gallon of cooking oil cost him $17. Now it's $52. Chicken was $45 a case. Now it's $110-120. A bag of 51 onions was $16. It's jumped to $34. 

They are a bit suspicious about price gouging because there are no shortages. 

A Nazareth donut shop owner said that before Covid, she had 23 employees. Now she has eight. She also echoed concerns about rising prices. Butter has gone from $40 to $140 and the gloves worn by pastry cooks have climbed from $60 to $110 per case. 

In addition to restaurant owners, County Council heard from the circus. Erin Grins, a stilt walker, juggler and circus camp trainer, said she and her husband are still being hurt by the pandemic. Things started to pick up, and then Omicron hit. "Our business disappeared overnight," she said.

One of these small business owners told County Council they are angels.

No, they are commissioners. 

Thursday, February 17, 2022

McClure: Mask Mandate to Be Lifted at Courthouse

In his report to Northampton County Council last night, Executive Lamont McClure remarked that the number of people seeking Covid testing has dropped precipitously. He indicated that it's possible he might lift the mask mandate at the courthouse next week. It would still remain in effect at Gracedale and at the jail. The courts previously discontinued their mask mandate inside courtrooms. 

NorCo Council Has Taken No Action With $450k Set Aside to Study Salaries, Gracedale and IT

Late last year, and over the objection of Executive Lamont McClure, Northampton County Council voted to set aside $450,000 to conduct as many as three studies. on IT, Gracedale and employee salaries.The vote was 8-1, with only Tara Zrinski dissenting. Two months have elapsed since that time, so you might be wondering what's happened. The answer came during a Council Committee meeting last night. Nothing.  

Council member John Cusick asked President Lori Vargo-Heffner what's going on, and she responded by saying she was waiting on everyone else She also wanted to see if anyone could find a consultant who would be inexpensive

She and Cusick both discussed issuing a request for proposals, but thus far, nothing has happened. 

County Council has three full-time employees, including two overpaid clerks. Maybe one of should be directed to take on this task.  

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Zrinski For State Senate?

In the last County Council race, conducted just a few months ago, I was among those who made Tara Zrinski the top vote-getter in Northampton County. I've been her harshest public critic. If truth be told, I've been her only public critic because dailies no longer cover county news. She got my vote because she has been responsive to county residents when they approach her with a problem. She also responded to my county council candidate questionnaire even though she was well aware of my criticism. Her Republican opponents spurned it even  though I was impressed by two of them. She won the county council race rather easily, but her bid for state senate is another matter.

In the county council race, she was one of 10 candidates vying for office. It would be very difficult for five GOP opponents to zero in on her. There was no real opposition research done on any of the candidates. Zrinski was able to waltz into office because of strong backing by Democratic women and environmentalists

A state senate race will be much different. Republicans could prop up a wingnut like Steve Lynch, which would make victory for Zrinski inevitable. But it's more likely they will find someone less bombastic and more reasoned. 

And willing to do opposition research. 

This blog would be a fertile source.  The above video alone, which I obtained from Zrinski's own YouTube channel, would certainly hurt her. She would also be hit hard for some of her more extreme environmental proposals,which included outright lies about Bethlehem Tp and the PennEast pipeline. Speaking of lying, she was sanctioned for "perjury" in a custody disputer. 

None of this bubbled to the surface in her County Council races. It will in her state senate bid. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Yes, NorCo Council Members are Called Comm'rs

I received two comments on Friday, almost certainly from the same person, ridiculing two matters peculiar to Northampton County. Let's start with the comments themselves. 

" I thought we had council people in our county and Lehigh County has Commissioners. Will someone explain what this is all about. What's the difference betweeen the courthouse and the government center? isn't it one and the same."

"th new democrats on council wanted the prestige of being called commissioners. They crave attention for their egos. Also, it has always been the County Courthouse until McClure, craving attention changed all th stationary to show th government center. He didn't want people to think the courts were in charge but that he was. He wanted everyo9ne to do it but the courts laughed and said, no. These dems egos need constant attention and adoration."

Commissioner or Council members? Lehigh County's legislative body is called the Board of Commissioners. Its members are called Commissioners. Northampton County Council members were called Council members and the body as a whole was referred to as County Council. 

These names are the result of the Home Rule Charters in each county. 

Over the past few years, several Northampton County Council members decided they'd prefer to be called Commissioner. I guess it sounds more important. When they go to state meetings of the County Commissioner Ass;n, they can pretend they are on the same level as real Commissioners in counties where there are three Commissioners who act as both legislators and executives. 

This is pure ego stroking and it never much got anywhere until Lori Vargo Heffner decided to try again. Now because this is actually a change to the Home Rule Charter, this would have to be advertised and approved by the public. 

All Council members, both Democrat and Republican, supported this plebiscite. Ego is by no means limited to one party. In last year's primary, voters approved the name change. I doubt very few actually knew this was just ego-stroking. The question was phrased in a way to make it seem that voters were approving a nine-person body. 

Northampton County Council, incidentally, is still called County Council. So we have nine Commissioners on a County Council. 

Shouldn't it be a Board of Commissioners? 

I suppose that will be the next big change. 

Courthouse or Government Center? It's both, but primarily, it's a courthouse. That's the name etched in stone outside the rotunda. 

So far as I know, there's been no move to have the building called anything but the courthouse. It is true that correspondence from the McClure administration does identify the building as the government center. This happened early in his first term, I do agree there's a tad bit of ego stroking there. I was told it was done to minimize confusion. But in all my years as a nearly daily visitor, I have yet to meet anyone who was confused about the government center's location at the courthouse. McClure has no authority to name any county building. That's the province of County Council.  

What we call things can have deep underlying meaning or could be ego. 

As for me, call me Ishmael. 

Monday, February 14, 2022

Ukraine: Will Russia Invade Tuesday?

According to the AP, 130,000 Russian troops are poised at the border of eastern Ukraine, ready to strike as soon as Tuesday. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky has downplayed the possibility of invasion, but when that number of trrops mass on its border, he should probably pay attentioon. The Wall Street Journal notes that the precursor to an invasion - cyberattacks - has already begun. Portions of eastern Ukraine have been under the control of pro-Russian separatists since 2014.

Friday, February 11, 2022

NorCo Council Adopts Priorities

The County Comm'rs Ass'n, known as CCAP, meets annually to arrive at priorities. This year, seven county government priorities have been identified as follows: 

Northampton County Council considered and endorsed these priorities as a result of a 9-0 vote last week. Tara Zrinski expressed disappointment that there were no environmental policies identified.  

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Is This Racist?

Andy Roman was a Lehigh County Comm'r for eight years before making the mistake of running for Sheriff against Ron Rossi. He lost that race, but served on a school board. Most recently, he was elected as a Whitehall Tp Comm'r. Hopefully, he's less nutty at their meetings than he's been on social media. On Facebook, he's a rabid anti-vaxer who calls the Covid-19 outbreak a plandemic. He also believes there was election fraud in the 2020 Presidential. Now he's posted a picture of Hillary Clinton with an Afro and darkened skin, and asks, "Our next Supreme Court Justice?" 

I get the attempted humor here. He's implying that Clinton is so desperate for power that she'll alter her race so she fits Joe Biden's requirements for the job. But is this also racist? I thought not, but then I remembered that I have some racist tendencies myself. If not racist, I think we can all agree that no elected official should use his Facebook page to post messages that make us wonder. Roman should be representing all Whitehall Tp residents, not just white males.

People wonder why I despise Donald Trump so much. Before he was elected, only fringe people posted the things I see on Roman's Facebook page. Now it's the norm. 

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

Three O'Hares

The original:

I adored my grandfather, who took me for walks nearly every day I stayed with him. He was a very good lawyer and was self-taught. Although his brothers Felix and John got admitted at Georgetown, my grandfather read the law and was admitted after examination by his local bar. Although he failed in his bid to become DA, he did manage to get himself appointed to a Board of View that would compensate landowners whose properties were taken by utilities. That didn't last long because his awards were always higher than even the owner's appraisals. 

He once represented a murderer and got his sentence reduced to life from the death penalty.

"Jesus Christ, Barnie, I'd rather die," said his unhappy client. 

"Hold on, I'll make a motion."  

My grandfather was a real Democrat back in the day when Democrats stood up for the beleaguered working man (unless they murdered someone).

Second Edition:

Unlike my grandfather, my father actually won a race for DA. He only served one term. During his time in office, he uncovered and prosecuted police corruption in Bethlehem. Then Mayor Gordon Payrow was furious that someone would suggest his city officials were tainted, but they were. He did change his tune after all the cops involved were convicted. 

My Dad was also a real Democrat because, like his father, he stood up for the working man.  

The turd:

Unlike my forbears, I've never run for anything. In fact, I'd never vote for someone like me. The first two editions had distinguished legal careers. Me? Well, I did attract the attention of the Pa. Supremes, who retired me a tad early. 

But like my two predecessors, I do my best to stand up for the working man, afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. 

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Johns Hopkins Study - Lockdowns Ineffective

I wanted to write about this sooner, but it took me until yesterday to find a link to an interesting study published by the Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health and the Study of Business Enterprise. Before I was able to locate it, I read all sorts of news articles from conservative and liberal pundits. They are experts at everything without reading anything. I preferred waiting so I could at least read it, and then try to break it down for you.  

As for my own biases, readers of this blog should know I support and encourage vaccines. I agree they should be mandatory among healthcare workers, but generally oppose vaccine mandates in other fields. I have no problem with face mask mandates because they are a minor inconvenience and no one likes to look at my face anyway.  I also have no problem with social distancing because that's always how it's been for me. I'm a miserable bastard. People tend to keep their distance.  

While I encourage vaccines (a friend of mine who refused to get vaccinated died recently from COVID-19), long-time readers of this blog know I was highly critical of Governor Tom Wolf's pandemic lockdown.  He applied a cleaver to a problem that required a scalpel. He gave no no consideration to how he was hurting the unemployed and self-employed, most of whom waited several months before getting a dime. He closed the state offices designed to help people at the time they were needed most. He gave no thought to children deprived of meaningful education. Nor did he consider the increases in suicide  and drug use. Wolf and Rachel Levine, a pediatrician and not an epidemiologist, engaged in aegrescit medendo. We are still reeling from all the predictable results, from hoarding to supply shortages to inflation. So what does the Johns Hopkins Study (it's actually an analysis of numerous studies) say?  

First, it is written by three economists. While they obviously would be unable to treat your broken ankle, these are precisely the kind of people who can crunch the numbers with a focus on the economics, not public health. 

Second, they coin a new phrase, at least for me. They refer to lockdowns as something that is "bioplausible," i.e. something that on the surface seems to make sense. It does seem logical that shutting everyone in their home would reduce spread. But as they note from the data, bioplausibility and reality are two different things. 

Third, this analysis is based on a review of thousands of studies, in which 24 were set aside for more detailed analysis. It included what was going on in 186 different countries. 

Fourth, lockdowns in Europe and the US only reduced OVID-19 mortality by 0.2%. Ironically, as more stringent measures were imposed, deaths actually increased slightly. (This could be because the stringent measures were put in place too late)

Fifth, where lockdowns did result in negative economic and social impacts in places where they were imposed. Thus, the study concludes "lockdown policies are ill founded and should be rejected as a pandemic policy instrument." 

Sixth, the analysis excludes early lockdowns, which I find a bit odd. The earlier you impose a lockdown, the more likely it would be that you'd mitigate the spread.  But in the US and Europe, most lockdown  orders came after it was too late to stop spread. I think this study would be better had it included places that were much quicker than most of the US in imposing lockdowns. 

Seventh, the analysis only looks at deaths, not new cases or hospitalizations.  

Overall, I find this Monday morning quarterback study to be quite interesting. My takeaway is that, to be effective, a lockdown must be very early and very stringent. And that's the problem. No one notices an infectious virus until it's too late for a lockdown to be effective.  

Monday, February 07, 2022

NorCo COs Offered 25% Incentive to Get Vaccine

Executive Lamont Mclure advised Northampton County Council on Thursday night that over 1,000 people within the county have now succumbed to COVID-19. According to McClure, these deaths have occurred mostly among the unvaccinated. He indicated that the number of people seeking COVID tests has dipped, but notes that 29% of those tested are positive. He was seriously considering a vaccine mandate at the jail, but has instead agreed to pay officers 25% on top of their regular salary if 75% of them get vaccinated. 

It's unclear to me whether a count executive has the authority to mandate a vaccine. As he himself has noted, persuasion is better than a mandate. Although corrections officers and McClure sharply disagree on wages and benefits, the Executive acknowledged that they have remained nearly fully staffed throughout the pandemic. 

There have been 32 vaccination clinics at the jail, and about 50% of the guards are currently vaccinated. 

The 25% incentive will last three months. 

Lori Vargo Heffner Wants to be a Freddy's Judge

As I'm sure most of you are aware, Easton's State Theatre hosts the Freddy Awards every year to recognize and reward outstanding high school musicals. I'm a huge fan. It's like the District XI of the arts. 

Shelley Brown was at Northampton County Council on Thursday night to note how much money has been lost since the pandemic began. She added that the loss of these shows have taken something away from the community and wants to come back. This year, 28 schools intend to participate in the Freddys.

Lori Vargo Heffner volunteered to be a judge at Thursday's Council meeting, Given that the State Theatre is a recipient of county funding, her request is inappropriate. She was probably joking, but I doubt the State Theatre took it that way.  

Friday, February 04, 2022

Thode: Vaccines By No Means a Panacea Against COVID-19 Death

I'm aware, as are most, that getting the COVID-19 vaccine by no means makes you immune from the virus or its variants That's why 11 of DeSales' fully vaccinated MBB team tested positive for Omicron and had to isolate. The same thing happened to several of my friends as well as their families. 

Although the vaccine is said to make it far less likely that you'll need hospitalization or die, that seems to be changing as more variants emerge. This is what Steve Thode has noted in his recent analysis of the data, which includes a justified criticism of the state Department of Health (DoH) for its characteristic failure to be fully open with the numbers.  

As "seniors," it was a no-brainer for [my wife and I] to get vaxxed (and boosted). However, we did approach it a bit like getting a flu shot - we never believed it would reduce our probability of getting COVID (and, subsequently getting seriously ill, or dying) to zero.

If you scroll just a little past halfway down the web page, you'll see death data in PA for vaxxed and unvaxxed.

While the first paragraph of the press release claims that 85% of the deaths for the between January 1, 2021 and January 4, 2022 were among the unvaxxed, if you scroll down, you will see that percentage of deaths by those fully-vaxxed has increased through time (Sept 2021 was a higher percentage than Aug 2021; Oct 2021 was a higher percentage than Sept 2021).

And, most disturbingly, no data for November and December 2021 is provided. But, just take October. In that month, 31% of the COVID deaths were among the fully-vaxxed! Now note, that for October 2021, only 30% of the confirmed cases were among the fully-vaccinated. So, a higher percentage of people who were fully-vaxxed (and were diagnosed with COVID) died than the percentage of unvaxxed who died from COVID.

So much for the misinformation that being fully-vaxxed protects you from serious illness or death.

This is precisely how government loses credibility - when it cherry picks the data to fit the message they want to convey. Why are November 2021 and December 2021 not reported? Of course, no explanation is provided even though, in the very same press release, DoH provides complete data on cases and hospitalizations for those months.

As a (small c) conservative, this is why I am skeptical of government. If DoH had noted the omissions and provided some explanation, I might be inclined (based on the explanation) to give DoH the benefit of the doubt. Sans an explanation, I am left to presume that DoH is reluctant to report those months for, shall we say, other-than-virtuous reasons.

Gracedale To Seek Daycare For Staff

In an effort to seek and retain workers, Gracedale is in the process of seeking approval for a daycare at the facility. Human Services Director Sue Wandalowski advised County Council last night that the daycare, if permitted, would be with an outside contractor.  It would be located somewhere on campus. 

Maybe they could use the morgue!'

For now, it would be limited to Gracedale staff. If successful, it could be expanded to other county departments. 

"It's one of the last things we haven't tried," said Wandalowski. She added the county is simply unable to compete with $30,000 signing bonuses being offered by Lehigh Valley Health Network.  

As for Gracedale itself, Administrator Jennifer Stewart-King told Council that the census has dropped to 443.  Since revenue depends on census, a drop ordinarily raises alarms. But Stewart-King explained that the lower census is actually a "strategic move on our part." That's because the lower the census, the more time staff has to spend with residents. This is tracked and is part of a nursing home's rating.  It is known as hours of patient care per day, or PPD. The state wants nursing homes to beat or above 2.7, and Gracedale was below that in November with a PPD of 2.65.

The PPD has actually dropped since November and is currently 2.45. This is because the facility has seen 51 workers quit rather than get a vaccine. Strewart-King said she would lose all funding if any staffers are unvaccinated. 

Although the nursing home was COVID  free in November, there are 45 cases among residents as of Thursday.  In addition, 13 staffers are positive. Residents who test positive are isolated in a negative pressure unit (Tower 10). The National Guard is assisting with testing because just one positive COVID case is considered an "outbreak." 

County Council member John Brown questioned Stewart-King';s assertion that there was no county contribution to the facility in 2021. The drop in census means less revenue, he observed. Stewart-King responded that the County was able to use the money the county received from the federal government under the American Rescue Plan. The nursing home was propped up with $7.2 million from this federal fund, and the county added another $2 million it had received under the American Rescue Plan. This included hazard pay and a vaccine incentive. 

Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron added that, while a lower census caused by staff shortages means reduced reimbursements, it also means fewer expenses to pay this staff. 

Barron anticipates there will be no need for a county contribution this year.

After being advised about finances, Brown suggested that the state could pull Gracedale's license. He complained he's heard no strategic plan to hire more people other than what the county is already doing "We have to do something or eventually this facility will implode on itself," he remarked. 

He offered no suggestions. 

Stewarrt-King said that, when she started as Administrator, there were already 300 open positions. That would have been just as Brown, as former county executive, left office.

Council member Kerry Myers noted the staff shortage at Gracedale is an industry-wide problem. He was also critical of Brown. "It's February and it already seems like the other side is going to attack [Gracedale]. "

Brown later said that, when he left office as Exec, there were only about 40 vacancies. But Human Services Director Sue Wandalowski backed up Stewart-King's assertion that there were 300 open positions. She said she would provide the data.       

Thursday, February 03, 2022

What Is Steve Lynch Up to Now?

Steve Lynch
Failed NorCo Exec candidate has promised a lot of things. He's gonna' sue Lamont McClure for "slander." He's gonna' sue the post office because his one and only campaign mailer arrived the day after the election. But think he stops at lawsuits. No siree. He wants fellow patriots (men only) to get together and fight (voting's not enough). 

Yesterday, he hosted a right wing nutjob named Matt Wakulik on some sort of Facebook show. Wakulik is from Pittsburgh, where he runs an illegal militia that prances around with AR-15s and train by pepper-spraying each other. 

They now espouse the "doctrine of the lesser magistrate," which they view as a justification for them to take down any government function they dislike. They referred to the ATF as a "criminal organization " and have called on men (not women) to stop watching sports and Netflix and start fighting. 

Alrighty then.  

Lehigh County's Never-Ending Judicial Election

Yesterday, I chided our appellate courts for taking their good old time to decide an uncomplicated elections issue that, one way or the other, should have taken them 15 minutes to decide. Do you count undated mail-in ballots that were received on or before election day or not? Since the Pa Supremes have pretty much signaled they must be rejected, there's little point in arguing the issue. The courts have wasted two months since the election. Thanks to their delay, the Lehigh County bench is one judge short. What amazed me is that the Commonwealth Court piously pronounced that this issue demanded an immediate decision. 

These judicial delays undermine public confidence in the integrity of our elections system.

Amazingly, the Pa Supreme Court, which is responsible for this mess, ducked the case.

Now, to make matters worse, the ACLU has injected itself with a federal lawsuit. Blogger Michael Molovinsky believes that judicial wannabe Zach Cohen is behind that lawsuit. We both also wonder how five of the voters whose undated ballots were rejected found out that their votes were in trouble. They were obviously solicited.   

Here's my question for the ACLU. Why did they wait until all state courts had ruled before filing their lawsuit? They are claiming a violation of federal law and should have filed suit immediately.

There is no difference between what the ACLU is doing and what Donald Trump's campaign did. 

Sour grapes.  

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

ACLU Throws Monkey Wrench Into Lehigh County Judicial Race

Democracy depends on making sure that all lawful votes are counted promptly. Stringing out an election contest might be the norm in a banana republic, but public confidence in our election integrity demands that results be swift and final. Yet, exactly three months after the election, there still is no certified winner for the third spot in Lehigh County's contested judicial race. The courts are the reason. After state courts have bungled this issue, the ACLU wants federal courts to weigh in, too. I guess the Hague will be next. 

At issue in this election are 257 mail-in ballots (MIBs) that were returned on time but were either undated or had the wrong date completely. Since they were all received on or before election day, this is a technicality. In a normal world, they'd be counted. But No. 

Last year, in the Presidential, the Pa. Supremes managed to completely screw this up. Three justices said that the law demands that the ballots be dated and that there should be no exceptions made for idiots (I paraphrase). Other justices insisted they be counted because we're all idiots (I paraphrase). Tie breaker David Wecht said we should count them, but only in that election. Never again. No idiot exception.  

Given that about 70% of MIBs come from Democrats, you could be certainly that a fairly large number of them would fail to date the ballot. We're too busy trying to decide whether our sexual orientation on any given day, and this is a trivial matter. But not to Republicans, who even keep diaries of their bowelk movements. So as you might have expected, Lehigh County's judicial race had 257 MIBs that were either improperly dated or not at all. I'm surprised there weren't more. 

Do these MIBs count?Thanks to the Pa Supremes, with justices all over the place, no one had a clue. So after the election, once this issue was uncovered, a lawsuit was filed.

Judge Ed Reibman probably thought he could fade away into retirement, but he was sent in to resolve the issue. He reached the logical conclusion. Technical defects should be ignored, regardless what the law actually says. His opinion came down November 30. 

Of course he was appealed. But get thus. The Commonwealth Court let it fester and failed to rule until January 3. It took these highly paid judges over a month to rule on a fairly straightforward issue. Amazingly, it did so in an opinion that piously pronounces that the "integrity of the election process  immediate resolution of disputes that prevent certification." The Commonwealth Court reversed Reibman, reaching the logical conclusion that the exact wording of the law must be followed, come hell or high water. 

Of course, their ruling was immediately appealed to the Pa Supremes. That's the court that created this mess.  After letting the matter collect dust a few weeks, the court that created this problem refused to step in and resolve it. 

Now Lehigh County's Elections Board has no idea what to do because the ACLU has stepped in and sued in federal court.  I have no idea why it waited until now. 

Enough's enough. 

I happen to think undated ballots should count. But there's a very important public interest in having swift and certain elections/ That's why I detested Donald Trumnp's bullshit when he lost. Democrats should stop pushing this issue. 

Move on. 

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

Trump Incites Crowd ... Again, Hints at Pardons for Capitol Rioters

Joe Biden has certainly been a disappointment to me as President. His administration has stumbled in its COVID-19 messaging. After promising to bring people together, his words and his agenda are just driving them further apart. I also have serious doubts about his foreign policy. But between him and Trump, I'd still go with Biden. The person who convinced me about that was Donald Trump himself.  At a weekend rally just a year after he incited a mob to storm the capitol, he's doing the same thing again. In addition, he's hinted that he'll issue pardons to the poor people who were so unfairly charged after disrupting the certification of a Presidential election. That's cRaZy talk. A person like him belongs in a padded room, not the oval office.  

I'd suggest you look at his speech for yourself, which appeared on C-SPAN. He complained about politically inspired prosecutors conducting a "with hunt" into some of his financial dealings while real criminals walk the streets. That's a rant I often hear from people charged with crimes.  

He said that if these prosecutors "do anything wrong or illegal," i.e. charge him, "I hope we are going to have in this country the biggest protest we have ever had in Washington, D.C., in New York, in Atlanta and elsewhere because our country and our elections are corrupt." 

This is a nonsequitor. What on earth does a criminal investigation into Trump's financial dealings, his incitement of a mob and his threats to Georgia election officials have to do with our elections?

He repeated his claim that the election was "rigged" and "stolen." He also told the throng that if he is elected again, "we will treat those people from January 6 fairly ... And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons.