Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Beware of Fake CYF Workers Who Want to Fingerprint Your Children

From Northampton County: "The Northampton County Department of Human Services (DHS) has received reports of someone claiming to be a Children, Youth & Family (CYF) employee, knocking on doors and requesting to fingerprint the children in the home.

"DHS has no connection with this person or persons. All DHS caseworkers conducting home visits identify themselves to the homeowner, show their ID, explain that they’re from CYF and present the resident with an official business card. If a resident is at all apprehensive, they are given an option to speak to the caseworker’s supervisor.

"CYF caseworkers never take anyone’s fingerprints."

DOJ Response to Trump's Special Master Motion Is Damning

Instead of talk radio and other conservative news outlets, DOJ is doing its talkingin court. It is very damaging to Trump. You can read the DOJ response here.

College Tuitions Should Make Student Loans Unnecessary

Back when Rome was a republic, its executive power was vested in two counsels who could serve only a year and who could veto each other. That changed as cults of personality chipped away at tradition until it was left with Emperor Caesar Augustus. He insisted he be called First Citizen, but was a tyrant. Mostly benevolent, but a tyrant nonetheless. Executives on all levels of government tend to want more power than the actually have, and the legislative branches of government often roll over and cede their oversight roles. So much as I like the idea of student loan forgiveness, I am leery of President Joe Biden's decision to accomplish that feat via executive order instead of through Congress.  We fought the Revolutionary War to free ourselves from the shackles of a King, but legislatures have an appalling tendency to abdicate any oversight. Besides, the real problem is the outrageous tuitions charged by colleges that now like to call themselves universities. Granting student loan forgiveness will just give them an excuse to demand more money. 

When I was a college student, my semester tuition was about $1,100. I could afford it by working a part-time job. Law school was even cheaper. 

Susan Dynarski, herself a college professor at Harvard College University, reports a similar experience: 

"College used to be nearly free. My older sisters went to the University of Massachusetts Boston in the mid-1970s, when tuition and fees for in-state residents were about $600 a year. To be clear, that $600 paid for an entire year of coursework, not just for a single class. In today’s dollars (after accounting for inflation) that is equivalent to $3,605. Yet by 2022, in-state residents paid nearly $16,000 in tuition and fees to go to UMass Boston.

In 1970, it would have taken 375 hours at the Massachusetts hourly minimum wage of $1.60 to earn the $600 required to attend UMass. Those hours easily fit into a summer of work or a part-time job during the school year.

By contrast, today it would take three times as long (over 1,100 hours!) at the state minimum wage of $14.25 to earn the $16,000 required to attend UMass. In some other states, where the minimum wage is $7.25 but the tuition rate is similar, this calculation looks much worse.

Dynarski goes on to conclude that student loan forgiveness is therefore justified. But she totally misses the real problem - out-of-control tuition costs. I support college loan forgiveness, but this problem will just worsen until lawmakers start demanding justifications for tuitions and their increases from "universities" that are already well-endowed and do a shitty job of placing students after they graduate. 

I attended a college graduation ceremony this Spring, and was astonished by some of the ridiculous degrees conferred in subjects that will do nothing to help the graduate find a job. So in addition to demanding tuition justifications from a state-appointed board, colleges should be required to guarantee placement of all graduates at a designated salary within six months of graduation. If they fail the student who works hard to get a 3.0 GPA, they should be required to return all tuition money paid and assume responsibility for any outstanding loan.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Gracedale is At Three Stars, Turns a Corner

As a member of Northampton County Council, Lamont McClure led a successful fight to keep Gracedale, the County's nursing home, publicly owned. He was quoted often saying that the county has a "moral obligation" to maintain this safety valve. He ran for Executive on this issue as well. But the problems there, made far worse by the COVID pandemic, but this commitment to the test.  It appears, however, that the County has turned the corner. According to the most recent rating by Medicare and Medicaid (not yet online), the home has jumped from a one-star ("much below average") in December 2021 to three stars ("average")

Medicare and Medicaid use a five-star system to rate nursing homes throughout the country. One star means you're "much below average" while five makes you the shizizzle. Early in McClure's first term, Gracedale had climbed to three stars ("average.") McClure said he was aiming for five.   

Then came COVID.   

Those were dark days for the McClure and Gracedale Administrator Jennifer Stewart-King. Gracedale's rating dropped from three to just one star, "much below average." In addition to a terrible rating, the home was plagued, not just with COVID and the tragic deaths that ensued, but an employee exodus brought about by refusal to get federally mandated vaccines against the pandemic. To make matters even worse, state and federal officials were considering a dramatic increase from 2.7 to 4.1 in the number of hours of nursing care that must be provided to residents daily. Another change being considered was a two-person room limit at a home where four in a room is the norm. 

Gracedale had become a political football as well. GOP Exec candidate Steve Lynch conducted news conferences on the grounds, in which disgruntled ex employees savaged the home. Republican Council member John Brown asserted that the home was being managed poorly.

In March, I suggested it was time, once again, to consider the long-term viability of the home. How could it continue with a staffing exodus combined with a dramatic increase the amount of nursing care that must be provided daily?  

Instead of giving up, McClure doubled down

The first step was to reduce the number of residents at the home so that staffing minimums could be achieved.  The second step was to increase a reliance on outside nursing agencies to provide care until staffing levels return to normal. The third step was a $2,500 bonus, paid annually, to attract and retain staff. Fourth, he proposed a free daycare for employees with children, which has been preliminarily approved by County Council. Most recently, he has suggested an in-house health center to provide primary care to all county staff, and with no co-pays. 

In late January, Gracedale's rating increased from a pre-election one star ("much below average") to two ("below average"). By June, nursing care at Gracedale was finally begin to meet the state minimum standard of 2.7 hours of nursing care per resident per day. In late July, county officials learned that the new standard would be 2.87, far below the 4.1 hors per resident per day. 

Just yesterday, county officials learned that Gracedale's newest rating is three stars ("average." It has made remarkable progress over the past year as it sailed through some choppy waters. This is a credit o both McClure and much maligned Administrator Jennifer Stewart-King. 

What has really helped the home is its rating on health inspections, which is better than most homes. Staffing remains an issue, but that should resolve itself in time. The one area in which the home can do little is quality measures. Gracedale has a large population of residents who suffer from mental disorders and are treated with psychotropic drugs. Generally, it is a good idea to avoid the use of these chemical restraints. But in a home with a large population of these residents, it is actually unsafe to other residents and staff to ban them altogether.

McClure told me that many of the people at that home, and with those issues, would have nowhere else to go if Gracedale rejected them because of their issues.   

Monday, August 29, 2022

CBS: GOP Losing Ground in Midterm

The CBS News Battleground Tracker estimated in July that Republicans would pick up 230 House seats in this year's midterms, well beyond the 218 needed for a majority.  That number is dwindling. They are now projected to win 226 races. This is good news for incumbent Democrats Susan Wild and Matt Cartwright, who are in tough battles to retain their seats. 

Democrats have been hurt by the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, runaway inflation and a President who looks every bit his 79 years. 

Republicans have been hurt by the Supreme Court's reversal of Roe v. Wade, a steady drop in gas prices, the student loan forgiveness and an ex-President who continues to spread chaos wherever he goes. 

Friday, August 26, 2022

Allentown Offering MonkeyPox Vax

If you wanted to stand in the front of the line for a COVID vaccine when it was first available, it helped to be an old fart. If you'd like the monkey pox vaccine, it helps to be in sexual demand like myself.  Allentown's Health Bureau will offer the monkeypox vaccine September 1 from 4 to 6pm. But only to horny dudes. It was offered yesterday as well, but I only noticed the news release after 6 pm. The monkeypox vaccine is administered in two doses, with the second dose scheduled at the time an individual receives their first vaccine.

Distribution is limited to a rather select and promiscuous group.

You must be gay, bisexual, or an "other" man who has sex with men, and/or transgender, gender non-conforming, or gender non-binary persons who are age 18 or older who have had multiple (2+) or anonymous sex partners in the past 14 days. 

Not sure why the word "man" is used when it's apparent the vaccine is pretty much available to whomever wants it, depending on his/her/its orientation that day. 

IN Addition, you must 

- Have knowledge or suspicion of exposure to monkeypox or another STI in the past 14 days OR

- Have had any newly diagnosed STI in the past 3 months, including gonorrhea, chlamydia, early syphilis, or HIV OR
- Have attended an event, met sex partner(s) through online apps or social media platforms, or exchanged money or other goods/services for sex OR
- Have a condition that may increase the risk for severe disease if infected with monkeypox virus, such as HIV or another condition that weakens their immune system, or they have a history of atopic dermatitis or eczema OR
- Be on HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) OR
- Sex workers of any sexual orientation or gender identity OR
- Be a blogger. 

The clinics are offering 30 appointments each day – a total of 60 first dose vaccines. Appointments can be scheduled by calling the Allentown Health Bureau at 610-437-7760 ext. 0. Once all appointment slots are filled up, names will be added to a waiting list for future availability.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

President Biden's Student Loan Forgiveness Program

President Joe Biden yesterday unveiled his long awaited student loan forgiveness program. This will affect 43 million Americans who have student debt. About half that number owe under $20,000, Penn Wharton estimates this will cost the government about $300 billion,, about the same amount of money that the $1,200 stimulus check cost. Some Democrats say more debt should be forgiven. Some Republicans argue the plan penalizes those who already repaid loans without government assistance and burden those who chose against goiong to college.  Here are the details: 

    - The program cancels $10,000 in student debt owed by individuals earning under $125,000 or married couples who make less than $250,000. 

    - Students who received Pell grants will have up to $20,000 forgiven. 

    - The amount forgiven will be exempt from federal income tax.

    - Loan repayments have been paused until 12/31. (These were initially frozen during the pandemic, and the freeze has been extended six times)

                - Repayments are capped at 5% of monthly income.  

Biden's previous actions: He's already canceled $31 billion in student debt (1.6 million people) for the disabled, public sector employees, defrauded students and students enrolled at schools that stopped operating (like Trump U).

Government by Executive Order? Biden plans to make these changes via Executive Order. Did Congress give the President this authority? Senator Mitch McConnell has said there will be a legal challenge to the President's authority. The Department of Education insists this action is authorized, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi believes this change needs congressional action. President Biden himself at one time viewed his authority as more limited. 

What do economists say?  Democrats and Republicans agree this will add to inflation by giving consumers more spending power. They worry that colleges will raise tuitions even more than the astronomical figures already charged. 

I am still thinking about whether this is a good or bad idea. What do you think? What I do know is that there really needs  to be a clawback from colleges and educations that encourage students to get these loans, but provide a subpar education and provide no placement. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Remember the Holodomor

Today is Ukraine Independence Day, in recognition of the date in 1991 that Ukraine declared its independence from the former Soviet Union. These are the bloodlands of the last century. It's where most of the Holocaust occurred. It's where most of  both Nazi and Soviet atrocities were committed during WWII. Over 20 million people were murdered in the black soil of the most fecund farmland on this planet.  This includes the holodomor - the deliberate starvation of 3.9 million Ukranians on orders from the Soviets during 1931-1932. Putin, a Stalinist who embraces the Soviet cult of fear and control, is doing what he can to continue what Stalin started.

Anne Applebaum, a Pulitzer Prize winning historian and journalist, exposed the Soviet starvation of the Ukraine in Red Famine, a meticulously researched book. She found these details when the archives of the former Soviet Union were opened for the first time. She was even able to view some records of the KGB until Putin slammed the door. Her book was published in 2018, four years before the current invasion. It explains a lot. The best way to understand the present, whether it is local or national, is to study our past. 

Ukraine's life as an independent nation has been brief, but it has existed as a culture for hundreds of years. At times, it has been part of the Polish-Lithuanian, the Austo-Hungarian and the Russian Empires. Despite its importance in feeding the world, its people have always been viewed derisively or paternalistically by the ruling class. There have been attempts to suppress the language, just as the English suppressed Gaelic or Americans suppressed native American tongues. Russians referred to Ukranian as peasant speech. No matter who was in overall control, there was always a strong national feeling. 

In 1917, Ukranians participated in the revolution against the Russian Tsar, They were viewed with suspicion, however, because these peasants were capitalists and refused to form collective farms.

In 1931, Stalin forced the people of the Ukraine to work in farming collectives instead of on their own. More prosperous farmers - called kulaks - were evicted from their homes. To make matters worse, party apparatchiks stripped the cupboards bare. All food was taken. All livestock appropriated. Roads leaving villages were blocked so that it was impossible to flee. The result was a slow starvation.

This is much worse than the Irish Famine. No one prevented the Irish from emigrating to the US. As disgusting as the Trail of Tears was in America, the government was at least making a half-hearted effort to care for people displaced. 

What happened in Ukraine was genocide, the attempted destruction of not just the people, but its culture and nation. 

Putin now is picking up where Stalin left off.  So when I read reports of cluster bombsand atrocities in Bucha, they ring true to me. 

Unlike Tucker Carlson an d tyhe MAGAs, I am not rooting for Pution. I am rooting for "We, the People."  

I stand with Ukraine. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

NorCo Has 38 Vacancies in Child Protective Services

When there were just 13 vacancies in Northampton County's child protective services (CYF), then Exec candidate Lamont McClure called a news conference to slam the "callous" John Brown administration. "We need to get those filled now," insisted McClure. Instead, the number of vacancies has grown. Human Services Director Sue Wandalowski last week that there are currently 38 vacancies, the highest since her arrival five years ago. Her complaint about the courts supposedly poaching two staffers fails to explain why there are now three times as many empty positions as there were under Brown. In my view, that is a real crisis.  

Wandalowski wanted Council to punish two CYF Supervisors for advancing their careers. In my view, it is precisely that kind of attitude that has resulted in 38 empty seats. To be sure, COVID caused many people to re-evaluate their careers. But Wandalowski's attitude certainly is helping that reassessment. I'd never want to work for someone who wants people to suffer for trying to better themselves.

The real problem at CYF and in most other departments is that the pay is just too low. Lamont McClure does have an obligation to safeguard the taxpayers' money, but he also has an oblihgation to protect the most vulnerable among us, and that certainly includes our children. 

County Council has made it clear it wants a pay study. They are fumbling around with it because they are all part-time and unfamiliar with the language used in requests for proposals. It is past time for McClure to finally embark on a pay study. 

Our Double Standard For Women in Politics

I doubt anyone would blink an eye at news that any male politician attended a party and had a good time. But Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, an attractive young lady, was vilified for an evening of drinking and dancing with friends. Critics hypocritically claim she's entitled to have a good time, but she exhibited poor judgment.  If that's so, then so does nearly every male in elected office. 

I see no reason why women in politics should be held to a higher standard than men . Much as I dislike complaints about the patriarch, what happened to Marin is blatant sexism.  

Monday, August 22, 2022

NORCO Council Ponders Health Center For County Employees

Last week, Northampton County Council began pondering a health center for county employees. Executive Lamont McClure advised his administration has been having discussions with Integrity Health over the past four years. This led to a survey of county employees, who were very favorably impressed by the idea. He now wants Council to understand the proposal, although costs have yet to be hammered down. 

Making the presentation for Integrity was Doug Forrester, a former Republican candidate for the US Senate (2002) and Governor in New Jersey (2005). He founded Integrity after his daughter suffered a dramatic brain injury. 

The employee health center being considered would be for employees and their families only. It would be a one-stop primary care environment offering doctor's visits, labs, pharmaceuticals, x-ray, chiropractor, mental health. If a referral for a specialist is needed or there is concern over exist8ing bills, this center would help the employee. He suggested a daily staffing of about 22 people who are salaried. 

In the first year, he expects about 12,000 visits from employees within the first year. 

This health center would be completely voluntary. Employees can still continue to see existing doctors. But if they choose to use the employee center, there is no co-pay.  Employees are spared that expense, making much of their health care cost free. 

In addition to being co-pay free, an employee's medical records would be confidential. It would be illegal to share with county administrators. 

Integrity currently has five public health centers in New Jersey. In Pennsylvania, Lycoming County is in the process of building an Integrity Health Center. 

Forrester indicated that an employee's health center would encourage more frequent visits and lead to more healthy workers. The county would be spared the cost of emergent or emergency centers. The county, which has self-funded insurance, already has to pay for doctor's visits at all these locations. But the expense at an employee health center will necessarily be lower. This means lower costs to the county and, in turn, the taxpayer.  

Friday, August 19, 2022

Yuck! - Dixie Cup Building Tax Break Fails in a 8-1 Vote

Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure can put his VETO pen away. Last night, a LERTA tax break proposed for the Dixie Cup building in Wilson Borough failed by a 8-1 vote. This included No votes from John Cuisck and Kerry Myers, who had previously agreed to sponsor the tax break. The sole member of Council to support it was John Brown.

During a public hearing preceding the vote, Wilson resident Armando Moritz-Chapelliquen voiced his continuing opposition. This included back taxes owed by Dixie Cup owner Wilson Park LTD as well as the existence of a buyer who needs notax break. Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron confirmed this blog's report that owner Wilson Park LTD (Joe Reibman) owes about $400,000-450,000 in back taxes on the tract. Joe Reibman indicated he is on a payment plan. Wilson Borough Council President John Burke acknowledged that "we need to better job," but added that's true "on both ends."

Council member John Cusick said he was "encouraged initially" by the proposal. He considers the site worthy of s tax break and has voted for two in the past. Not this time. "How do I justify giving a tax break to someone who has created one of their own by not paying their taxes on time?" he asked.  

Cusick attempted to table the LERTA, but his motion died for lack of a second. 

Cusick's opposition was echoed by Myers. "When I saw this in The Morning Call [referring to a story about unpaid taxes], my head started spinning. ... This one hit me right in the gut." 

John Brown, the sole member of Council to support a LERTA, said the opposition based on unpaid taxes was a "short-sighted perspective" because taxes will be paid eventually. 

Council member Tara Zrinski noted that there is at least one buyer (Nat Hyman) willing to purchase without contingencies and without a tax break. She indicated that under these circumstances, "we need to favor the taxpayers."

What bothered Council member John Goffredo is that nothing in the LERTA ordinance prevents the eventual demolition of the Dixie Cup building, which he claimed "has character, has history." This was disputed by Wilson's John Burke, who said there are no four-floor warehouses and no warehouses on just nine acres. Burke is apparently unaware of high-cube warehouses. 

Council President Lori Vargo Heffner thanked Wilson Borough Council President Burke for his comments and asked that he reach out to County Council next time. She said the previous LERTAS she has considered have neem seamless, but this was a "nasty. messy process. ... I don't know how to say it but Yuck."

In other business, Council unanimously approved salary increases for the lateral transfers of  two CYF employees to adult probation. Court orders authorizing these appointments and at salaries of $53,461 and $53,565 were issued earlier in this day. This prompted Council member Kevin Lott to ask whether County Council has a say in setting salary. 

Council Solicitor Chris Spadoni responded that if there's a court order telling you to bring a jack ass into the kitchen, you have two questions: Where is the jackass and where is the kitchen?  He said if you disagree with the court, you can file a petition seeking review, but you follow the order. 

County Council also unanimously approved DA Terry Houck's request for a $2,000 longevity bonus for all assistant DAs except for Richard Huntington Pepper. He doesn't deserve one andis on doubke secret probation for being rude to a blogger.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

UPDATED: NorCo Human Services Director Accuses Courts of "Poaching" Her Staff

Lately, Northampton County administrators, including Executive Lamont McClure, have been addressing County Council during courtesy of the floor. In perhaps the most bizarre of these disquisitions, Human Services Director Sue Wandalowski used her time in the people's pulpit last night to accuse the courts of "poaching" two of her staffers.

According to Wandalowski, she currently has 38 vacancies in CYF (Children Youth and Families), more commonly known as child protective services. This is the highest it's been since her arrival five years ago. These are the people who investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect, so staff shortages here are undeniably critical. 

She accused the courts of approaching and recruiting two of her CYF supervisors to become probation officers. She noted that the starting salary of a probation officer is only $49,000, which is below their current $52,000 salary. She noted that Court Administrator Jermaine Greene promised these probation officer hopefuls that he'd seek a two-step pay increase (lateral transfer) so that they'd be making more than their current wage.   

Wandalowski said she consulted with the Executive, and  they jointly decided that "we are not going to assist in the further weakening of CYF." This refusal to assist apparently included a Human Relations refusal to process the request for a two-step pay increase (lateral transfer) by County Council. 

While insisting that she would never deny a county employee the right to transfer to another position, she wanted Council to "send a clear message" by denying the step increases being sought. "Switching jobs sometimes has consequences," said Wandalowski, "and in this case the consequence is making less money than they would at CYF." 

The County's Constitution is its Home Rule Charter, adopted in 1977. It establishes a "career service designed to attract, select, and retain, on the basis of a fair and open competitive selection process, the best qualified individuals, and to impose on elected officials, officers, and employees the highest possible ethical standards." It specifically calls for "impartial standards" in filling vacancies, not some design to keep people shackled in involuntary servitude for their professional career. 

I believe slavery is abolished in the US Constitution as well. 

In addition to punishing county workers who just wish to advance their careers, Wandalowski got her facts wrong. Nobody did any poaching. 

Court Administrator Jermaine Greene stated her claim was "categorically untrue" and had the evidence to prove it. He stated that his office was approached by the CYF Supervisors, not the other way around. "I don't have to poach anyone. People want to come work for the courts. We treat our people good. That's why these candidates want to come."

Greene brought the candidates themselves so they could tell County Council themselves that they approached the courts on their own. He also brought Paul Singley, Deputy Chief Probation Officer, who told Council that there was no poaching. He was approached by the CYF supervisors because they knew there were two openings. 

Singley indicated there are 23 probation officers. 

"If somebody wants to move and wants a different job, they should have the right," said Council President Lori Vargo Heffner.

"Why are we punishing them for wanting to come and advance their career?" asked Greene. "That's how I look at it." 

Council member John Brown added that one reason why County employees stay is precisely so they can transfer to advance their careers. He added that the staff shortage at CYF is no basis for denying an employee's right to transfer. "I would propose that we just move this forward," he said of the two-step pay raise (lateral transfer).   

County Council will vote on this matter tonight. 

HR Director Mary Lou Kaboly told County Council that the count executive has to sign off on two-step increases (lateral transfers), but declined to do so in this instance.  Assistant County Solicitor Richard Santee also advised Council that they are a salary board and have the power of the purse. He disputes the argument that a DA or judge can decide on his own what salaries he wants to pay. 

Clarification at 10 AM: County Council must approve two-step increases, but I've just learned that what really is involved here is a lateral transfer. The employees in question will be paid $53,000 if County Council approves the lateral transfer. Jermaine Greene believes this transfer is warranted because the candidates meet all the educational requirements, are experienced and would be a good fit in probation. 

NorCo DA Terry Houck Seeks Council Approval of $2,000 Bonuses for Prosecutors

Responding to a nationwide shortage of prosecutors that has affected his office, Northampton County DA Terry Houck is seeking bonuses for his prosecutors, excepting himself and First Assistant DA Richard Huntington Pepper. He has the money ion his budget to make these payments. He stated he'sunable to offer bonuses to staffers who are unionized. 

A starting assistant DA is paid $63,000. The amount of each bonus is $2,000. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Bethlehem City Council Sends Backyard Chicken Ordinance to Public Safety Committee

When Bethlehem City Council initially proposed a backyard chicken ordinance, they refused Mayor Willie Reynolds' request to have the matter considered by the public safety committee. Paige Van Wirt, sponsor of chickens, insisted she already had all the details. Two weeks ago, the vote was delayed because a number of amendments were offered, indicating that Van Wirt might have missed a few of those details. Last night, and without discussion, City Council unanimously voted to send the chicken ordinance and all related amendments and resolutions to Council's public safety committee. That's what they refused to do four weeks ago. 

I personally have no problem with a back yard chicken pilot program. But I believe all adjoining property owners should have the right to say No. 

Musikfest Draws 1.2 Million, Biggest Ever

Bethlehem Mayor Willie Reynolds informed City Council last night that this year's Musikfest drew 1.2 million enthusiasts, topping a previous record set in 2019. "It's a testament to where our City is," boasted Hizzoner. 

Police Chief Michelle Kott advised that her department responded to 89 calls (33 on south side, 56 on north side). These calls resulted in 21 arrests, but all but three of them were summary citations. Most of those charged were white, nonHispanic males who live outside the City.

She also said she was "extremely proud " of her officers for their prompt action in responding to a Saturday night shooting of a 20 yo male. Officers rendered assistance on the scene and safely evacuated the area. Mayor Reynolds added that officers "really stepped up."    

I stopped drinking decades ago, have to watch what I eat and have little interest in live music. So much as I'd like to tell you about what happened, I'm never there. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Reibman Snubs Hyman Attempt to Buy Dixie Cup Building

Last week, through a third party, Allentown businessman Nat Hyman contacted Joe Reibman, owner of the Dixie Cup Building in Wilson Borough. Hyman, who specializes in converting old factory buildings into apartments, has made no secret of his desire to purchase the property. But after some initial back and forth, Reibman has once again missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. 

Reibman, who is seeking a tax break known as a LERTA, owes about $400,000 in back taxes on the property.  He failed to do anything with the property after being granted a TIF and a KOZ, the mother of all tax breaks. Most real estate appreciates in value over time, but the Dixie Building is actually losing value because of Reibman's failure to maintain it. The building is deteriorating fast. In addition to hundreds of broken windows, it has massive holes in the flooring and is littered with both lead paint and asbestos. He has been both cited and sued by Wilson Borough for code and public health and safety violations.  Because he has done little to secure the property, it is an attractive nuisance. 

In June, a New Jersey developer approached Northampton County Council without notice and told them he needed a LERTA for the property so, according to his own words, he could convert it into a warehouse.  This was not just any old LERTA, where tax increases on the basis of property improvements are phased in over a period of 10 years. Under this LERTA, which the County had no role in drafting, tax increases would only kick in after four years, meaning a 10 year tax break would actually be a 14 year tax break. 

Northampton County Council has tabled this LERTA on steroids and is instead considering a more traditional model.  

Enter Nat Hyman. He is willing to buy the property, and asked Reibman how much he wanted. 

Reibman asked for $10 million and Hyman offered $5 million.  Reibman immediately reduced the price to $7 million, and Hyman increased his offer to $5.5 million. Both parties were negotiating and things looked promising. Then Reibman said he was ending negotiation unless he knew the identity of the buyer. Hyman disclosed his identity, and then Reibman suddenly said No. He added he had several better offers. 

This, however, is untrue. At the same time that he was killing a deal with Hyman instead of continuing to negotiate, Reibman has listed the property on Loopnet, a commercial real estate site. Once again, he is asking for $10 million.  

Why would he be listing the property of he already has several good offers? Why would he list the property when he and Hyman were only $1.5 million apart?

Simple answer. Greed. 

Here's how Hyman out things in a phone call yesterday.

"I offered Mr. Reibman $5,500,000 with no contingencies and a 30-day closing period. This offer allows him to pay off his $450,000 obligation to the taxpayers, no longer seek the LERTA tax abatement, allow this blighted building of 20 years to finally be redeveloped by a responsible developer and him to walk away with a $5,000,000 profit. Mr. Reibman said No."  

Hyman adds, "I would seek no government incentive of any sort which would obviously save the taxpayers a great deal of money and then put this massive property back on the tax rolls."

Reibman has a right to be greedy. We should play no part, however, in financing his rapacity. 

Monday, August 15, 2022

Online Petition Opposes Tax Break For Dixie Cup Warehouse

Wilson resident Armando Moritz-Chapelliquen is among those opposed to providing a tax break to a New Jersey developer so he can turn the former Dixie Cup factory into a warehouse.  He's also prepared an online petition opposing any tax benefit. It has attracted 79 signatures. Here's his pitch:

The Wilson Area School District and Wilson Borough Council unanimously voted in favor of granting a tax benefit called a Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance, or LERTA, to the potential buyer of the old Dixie Cup factory in Wilson Borough. The developer--in his own words--plans to use the 640,000 sq ft site mostly as a warehouse. While the old factory has been in desperate need of redevelopment for almost 40 years, this site is located between two schools, the Easton Area High School and the Wilson Area High School, and is down the road from the Wilson Borough Elementary School. For anyone who has driven along South 25th Street between Route 22 and William Penn Highway, you know the corridor is already heavily congested. Add in the increased truck traffic from this new warehouse and you have a perfect recipe for more traffic, worse air quality, and an overall reduced quality of life for residents around the development, including the students at the local schools.

While the school district and borough have already weighed in, the Northampton County Council must also vote on whether to grant a tax benefit for warehouse--a use that has increasingly worsened air quality and traffic conditions in the Lehigh Valley. The Dixie Cup must be redeveloped, but the restoration of the building should not be at the cost of the surrounding communities.

Northampton County taxpayers deserve better.

Northampton County Council must vote NO on the LERTA resolution for this project.

Northampton County Council is slated to vote on whether to extend a tax break in Thursday. Should they approve it, Executive Lamont McClure has vowed to veto the measure. 

Republican Council members have signaled a willingness to provide a NJ developer with a tax break for a warehouse. Council member John Brown reasoned that such an incentive is the only way the hulking factory can be redeveloped. But Brown was unaware that Allentown businessman Nat Hyman, who specializes in converting old factories into apartments, has been trying to purchase the property from Joe Reibman. Hyman, unlike most developers, has no interest in government handouts. Brown was also unaware that Reibman is relying on this government handout to catch up on $400,000 in back taxes owed on this property. Finally, Brown must be unaware that Reibman has already had the benefoit of a TIF, and was unable to sell. He was unable to sell with a KOZ, the mother of all tax breaks. In the meantime, the Dixie Cup continues to depreciate in value. 

Republican Council members have been joined by Democrat Kerry Myers, who apparently thinks it's perfectly fine to provide a NJ developer with a tax break for the last thing we need - another warehouse.  Never mind an insulting and condescending presentation by Wilson Borough Solicitor Stan Margle. 

"Traffic is the wave of the future; there's nothing we can do about it," declaims Myers. I see. So we might as well give tax breaks for warehouses, I guess. "[P]ollution is never going away," he adds. So we might as well give a few more kids asthma, I guess. If this is the way Myers feels, his vote for mobile air pollution monitors was a vote to waste money. 

Friday, August 12, 2022

Guess Who's At Musikfest?

 


It's none other than Mike Fleck, aka the Fleckster, nattily attired with an ankle bracelet. As most of you know, he was the common denominator in a plethora of public corruption investigations that snagged his BFF,  Edwin "Fed Ed" Pawlowski. 

Trump Search Warrant May Have Been Necessary to Obtain Nuclear Weapon Documents

On Wednesday, when I first wrote about the unprecendented search warrant at a former President's home, I was concerned that the FBI had engaged in a bit of overkill. Why on earth would you need to seek a search warrant for Presidential records? From what I've read, Donald Trump had been uncharacteristically cooperative with National Archives, even to the point of allowing them to go through his storage and remove 15 boxes of records.  And contrary to what some of you have suggested, 30 agents are about 26 agents too many for what was a limited search of an office, bedroom and storage room. Nor am I satisfied by AG Merrick Garland's motion to make public the actual warrant and property receipt. If he really wanted top be transparent, he's want to make the supporting affidavit public as well. Despite all these misgivings, I'm beginning to believe the search warrant was appropriate. 

I've stated this search warrant had to be one of two things. It could be a pretext search using Presidential documents as an excuse to look for evidence of other crimes. This would be highly inappropriate, but don't kid yourself. It happens.

The other possibility was that feds had reason to believe that these Presidential records contained highly sensitive information that could damage our national security if they fell into the wrong hands.  According to The Washington Post, agents were looking for classified documents that relate to nuclear weapons. Obviously, under such circumstances, they'd have to move quickly to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands. There'd be no time for niceties. If this was the reason for the search warrant, the action taken was not just justified, but necessary. 

We'll know for sure once the search warrant and property receipt are released. 

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Magisterial District Judge's Race Car Was Being Stored at Dixie Cup Building

Dixie Cup in 1931

Richard Yetter is the magisterial district judge in Wilson Borough. He would be the person with jurisdiction over code violations at the former Dixie Cup factory.  The 608,000 sq ft building is full of broken windows. Did Wilson Borough ever cite owner Joe Reibman with code violations? Let me tell you what I've learned.

Wilson Borough, through its third-party code enforcement officer, cited Dixie Cup nine times in 2018 and 2019 for broken windows and failure to remove snow. All these actions were filed with Magisterial District Judge Yetter.  All but one of these cases, a guilty plea to snow removal, were transferred to other minor jurists. Why?

I learned the answer to that question by reviewing a complaint filed by Wilson Borough against Reibman in 2020. Borough officials inspected the site and observed lead paint, asbestos tiles, nonfunctioning fire doors, holes in the floors, broken windows, unidentified 55-gallon drums and unlicensed vehicles being stored. This included "a vehicle designed for racing with decal 'Yetter 3.'" They also observed a "black sport utility vehicle."

As some of you may be aware, Magisterial District Judge Yetter at one time raced cars. He likely transferred these matters because he has a conflict of interest. 

The Wilson suit, seeking an injunction against the site as a nuisance, alleges numerous health and public safety hazards. It also contends that owner Joe Reibman "was engaged in the business of renting commercial space in the Dixie Building to individuals and/or entities without first obtaining the necessary approvals and/or permits from the Borough of Wilson."

When he spoke to Northampton County Council in support of a proposed LERTA, owner Joe Reibman acknowledged he had rented space to Frick Transfer, a local hauling company. He failed to mention any other arrangements, including the storage of Yetter's race car.    

Wilson Borough's case is dormant in court, almost certainly because Reibman has represented yet again that he has a buyer. 

I've previously told you the site is subject to $346,000 in municipal liens owed to Wilson Area School District. Yesterday, I learned that he's $63,000 delinquent on other real estate taxes. 

Now he wants an unprecedented LERTA for yet another buyer.

When is enough enough?

He was unable to sell the property with a TIF. He was unable to sell the property with a KOZ, the mother of all tax breaks. He's had help from Pa.'s Department of Environmental Protection.

In the 40 years he's owned this property, Reibman has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. 

Last week, Wilson Borough Solicitor Stan Margle instructed Northampton County Council they must ignore a property's intended use in deciding on a LERTA. That position, of course is absurd. LERTAs are created for the very purpose of encouraging homeowners and small businesses to improve their properties without getting stuck with a giant tax bill all at once.

In addition to considering intended use of blighted property, taxing authorities really should consider the current owner as well. Reibman has a poor record in previous promises and predictions.     

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

FBI Search of Trump's Florida Home Mar-a-Lago Requires An Explanation

On Monday, more than 30 FBI agents descended upon former President Donald Trump's home with a search warrant (it's sealed) obtained from a federal magistrate. Trump himself has been at his Bedminster residence to escape the stifling Florida heat. This begs the question why 30 agents were needed. It certainly is troubling. I don't like Trump, not one little bit. But if they can indulge in this type of overkill for a former President, imagine what they can do to you or me. According to WashPo, agents were looking for Presidential records that Trump failed to provide the National Archives in defiance of the Presidential Records Act. If so, shame on him. But it's hardly a matter that requires a search warrant and 30 agents. If that's all there is, then the complaints I've heard from Republicans are warranted. But is that all there is?  

An explanation is required. If this warrant was obtained just to grab Presidential records, even classified records, the FBI is off its rocker. No search warrant has ever been executed on a former President. But if records are being sought in connection with the January 6 attempted coup, the action taken might be justifiable. 

I think we are owed that explanation. I believe there are two possibilities. 

1. The FBI may have had information that Trump held on to sensitive classified documents, and there was a real concern that they could be leaked to a foreign adversary. If this is the case, I believe the action is appropriate.

2. The FBI is investigation the January 6 attempted coup, and obtained a search warrant for Presidential records as a pretext to look for evidence implicating Trump in the attempted overthrow of Congress. If such evidence is seen, it can be seized under the plain view doctrine. If this is the case, I think the FBI is playing games and is acting in bad faith. 

Whatever the reason, I do think we are owed an explanation. 

Updated 10:40: LVCI has a picture of the first items seized in the raid of Trump's Mar-a-Lago home. 

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Dixie Cup Site Subject to $346,000 in Municipal Liens to Wilson School District


Stan Margle, in last week's condescending pitch to Northampton County Council for a Dixie Cup tax break in Wilson Borough, instructed them they were bound to consider only the site, not its intended use. They were supposed to erase everything they had been told about a warehouse next to two high schools in a high-traffic area. 

OK, let's consider the parcel, shall we? 

According to records in Northampton County's Civil Division, the site is subject to about $346,000 in municipal liens imposed by Wilson Area School District. They are filed at 2018-ML-6317, 2019-ML-6401, 2020-ML-4166, 2021-ML-3482, 2021-ML-6222 and 2022-ML-1641. These are in rem liens, meaning they run with the site. 

These liens have been filed by Portnoff Law Offices, a tax farmer hired by school districts who want their money now. When they index liens against ordinary homeowners like you, they list the property for sale right away. But the more wealthy can get away with stiffing a school district for four years. 

There is also a lawsuit pending, filed by Wilson Borough at 2020-C-6058.

I neglected to check delinquent county taxes..

Basically, Margle wants a tax break for a site that is already behind on the taxes it owes. Since he says we should only look at the site, the answer should be NO.  

By the way, I have no problem with a developer building a warehouse there. It is a zoned use and this is America. But I'd refuse to make it easy for him by giving him a tax break.     

Rumormill: Judge Baratta Running For DA

I've heard this rumor from three different people, so I guess it's time to let you all in. According to what I'm told, Judge Stephen Baratta plans to run against Terry Houck for District Attorney. My sources claim they've heard this from tipstaffs and deputy sheriffs, who come into regular and daily contact with judges. 

First elected to the bench in 1997, Judge Baratta has already prevailed in two retention contests. He does have prior experience as a prosecutor. He was First Assistant DA between 1992 and 1997, when he ascended into the judicial heavens. 

Although I've heard this rumor from three different people, I've heard nothing from Judge Baratta himself and have no intention of discussing the matter with him. That's because, as a judge, Baratta is barred from delving into the dirty world of politics, where bottom-feeders like myself thrive. In fact, the moment he begins circulating nomination petitions, he's required to resign.

Incumbent DA Terry Houck is under no such restriction. He's heard nothing. He's a professional prosecutor, and has served as such in Bucks, Lehigh and Northampton Counties. He's been District Attorney for two years. 

Both Baratta and Houck are Democrats. Baratta's path to the law went through the rarefied air of Lafayette College and Fordham University Law School. Houck's path went through the Philadelphia Police Academy. A beat cop, Houck got his law degree by going to Temple at night. 

I understand that, while there are nine judges, there is only one DA. But I struggle with the notion of a judge who's already been retained twice suddenly deciding to quit and run against a very effective DA.  

Monday, August 08, 2022

More Good News For Gracedale

In July, I told you that things were finally looking up at Gracedale. Last week, Administrator Jennifer Stewart-King had more good news.   

What was the good news in July? 

The home is required to provide 2.7 hours of nursing car per resident on a daily basis. Even with a reduction in census, the facility was struggling to get up to 2.5. What's more, it was considered very possible that the 2.7 standard was going to be increased to 4.1. Fortunately, that never materialized. Instead, the new standard will be 2.87 hours of nursing care for each resident daily. Executive Lamont McClure noted that the home was near or even exceeding that standard. 

What is the good news now?

The per diem Medicaid reimbursement rate is going up. Though Stewart-King is still waiting for the details, the increase is very good news because a majority of Gracedale residents are on Medicaid. 

She noted that census dropped in July to 396, with a waiting list of 45. This is purposeful. Census will go up once the number of employees has increased. 

In July, residents received an average of 2.83 hours of nursing care daily. This is above the current state standard.

Stewart-King added that hiring is going very well now that there's a bonus. The vaccine mandate has been no issue among new hires. 

Finally, there were four visits from DOH responding to anonymous complaints. All were determined to be unfounded.  

Was I Scammed? Or Was a Selfish Prick?

On Thursday or Friday afternoon, I decided to fill up at SHEETZ (Rte 248) with unleaded 88. While doing so, I was approached by a middle-aged man. He told me, in broken English, that his wallet had either been lost or stolen, and this put him into a bind because he was on his way to Texas with his pregnant wife. He had no money and no cards. He asked if I could fill up his tank for him.  Was this guy scamming me or telling the truth? Let me tell you what happened. 

At first, I was certain it was a scam. He was in a frickin' Mercedes SUV, for one thing. That bothered the hell out of me, and I told him that. He did have temporary Texas plates, but I asked him why he or his pregnant wife could not call a family member and have the money wired. He answered that neither he nor his wife had any family in the US. 

And why is that, I asked. 

They're in Ukraine, he answered. 

That hit me. I am currently reading the Red Famine, inm which Anne Applebaum tells the story of the Holodomor, in which Stalin actually starved between 3-5 million Ukranians in 1932-3. He was fearful of their independent streak  Not only did he send party apparatchicks to remove all their food, but blocked the roads so they were unable to flee. He, like Putin, had little regard for their lives. 

I filled up the guy's tank. 

Then he asked me for a little money for food. His wife gave me a gold chain and said I could have it if I could give them a little money. 

I am a person of limited means, and I told him he could try the pawn shop just two miles away in Nazareth to get some money. He told me it was closed. I did not really believe him and said the gas was as far as I was willing to go.

He understood and actually bowed to me.

I left and drove to the Aldi, which is right next to the pawn shop. I noticed that the pawn shop was indeed closed. He was telling the truth.  I considered going back to help the guy, but figured he'd be gone. 

Several people tell me the guy was a scammer, but I think I just failed the Good Samaritan test. I felt badly about it all weekend.  

I've learned this weekend that Texas is resettling 12,000 Ukranian refugees

Friday, August 05, 2022

NorCo Council Tables Dixie Cup LERTA

Back in June, Northampton County Council was asked to give a tax break for the Dixie Cup property located in Wilson Borough. Owner Joe Reibman has owned this property for about 40 years, but has been unsuccessful in his attempts to market it despite getting plenty of help from Northampton County. New Jersey real estate developer Nick Tsapatsaris may have thought he was a white knight in shining armor. Though he was not on the agenda, he told County Council in June that he was willing to take the Dixie Cup off Reibman's hands. He pledged to keep the iconic Dixie Cup in place atop the building, but the rest would be used for storage, offices and a "last mile logistics facility," i.e. warehouse. He added that it would be impossible, just impossible for him to move forward without a LERTA tax break. And not just any simple LERTA, where increased taxes are phased in over ten years. His proposed LERTA would only start once 85% of the improvements were completed or within four years, whichever is later. This is a LERTA that could last as long as 14 years.  Northampton County Council finally considered this proposed LERTA last night, and voted 8-1 (Tara Zrinski being the sole No vote) to table the ordinance. It was pretty clear that there was no desire to give this developer a break. Then incredulously, they introduced a more traditional LERTA for the Dixie Cup site and will vote on that one in two weeks.

In public comment, Wilson resident Armando Moritz-Chapelliquen warned County Council what they were facing. He told them he had been rebuffed at every turn in his attempts to learn about the proposed tax incentive. He said he was berated by a borough council member and that his calls to Wilson Borough Solicitor Stanley Margle were never returned. He attempted to speak at a Wilson Borough Council meeting about the issue on May 9, but was subjected to a "collective pile-on" by other borough council members during the three minutes he was allotted to speak. He was eventually told to "sit my butt down and listen."    

Was Armando exaggerating a bit? I'd be tempted to think that until Stanley Margle, Solicitor to Wilson Borough, demonstrated an arrogant and condescending approach to County Council. He was essentially serving as a pitchman, not for the residents of Wilson Borough, but a New Jersey developer.

He told County Council that they had to forget all about the proposed use of the property and just consider whether it is deteriorated and blighted. The property is certainly a mess, but who's fault is that? That's the question Council member Kevin Lott had for Margle. Lott contended that the broken windows at Dixie Cup are a "maintenance issue" that should have been addressed by code enforcement. He added that asbestos is in virtually all older buildings and is no evidence of blight. He also wondered why no one had bothered to reach out to the county as a LERTA on steroids was being drafted. 

"Frankly, you don't know what you're talking about," responded Margle to a man who spent his career in precisely these kinds of construction projects. "You asked where the borough has been in coming to [the County] for assistance. Where has [the County] been [to assist] the Dixie Building? Where has [the County] been [to assist] Wilson Borough? Where have you been? Nowhere. That's bull. So don't sit there and tell me as Solicitor to the Borough that we should be reaching out to County Council. Bull." 

"Well, then don't bring your project here," countered Lott. 

"It's not a project," insisted Margle. "You're demonstrating a total lack of understanding. ... Again."

Lott later wondered whether Wilson residents are dished the same kind of treatment he received from Margle. "If I as a Council person get attacked by a lawyer, by the [borough] solicitor like I did here, I can only imagine the way the residents are being treated."

If anyone has a total lack of understanding, it's Margle. The horse has already left the barn. A developer has already told County Council he plans to use the tax break to help finance a warehouse, which is the last thing the County needs. So his "look over here but not over there" argument was rejected by most Council members who discussed it. It was, frankly, insulting. 

In addition to being insulting, Margle was wrong on the facts, as Council members Tara Zrinski and John Cusick both pointed out.

The County has tried to help both the Dixie Cup and Wilson Borough on at least two occasions. In 2006, County Council gave Dixie Cup owner Joe Reibman a tax break known as a TIF so he could develop the old factory with condos. That project foundered. Then County Council took an additional step and gave Reibman the mother of all tax breaks. It placed the property in a Keystone Opportunity Zone. This would exonerate all tenants and the owner from all taxes, except federal income taxes, for ten years. Even with this substantial tax break, all Reibman could manage to do is allow more windows to be broken. 

Zrinski stated, "I will be voting NO on any LERTA in front of me." It was clear from the comments of other Council members that they were unhappy with both the LERTA and Margle's bullying. Given Reibman's abject failure to develop the site, coupled with the arrogance displayed by Wilson Borough Solicitor Stan Margle, I fully expected Council to reject the tax break. They instead voted to table the ordinance, with Tara Zrinski being the sole No. Then they introduced a new ordinance that would grant a more traditional LERTA. Kerry Myers and John Cusick are sponsors of the watered down LERTA.

This seems to be a pointless exercise as most Council members, with the possible exceptions of John Brown, Kerry Myers  and John Cusick, seem opposed to any LERTA at the site. 

Brown stated that no one would take over the property without significant incentives. That, however, is untrue. Real estate developer Nat Hyman, in a telephone interview, stated the following: "If the price that guy is paying for the Dixie Cup site is reasonable, I will match it and build housing instead of a warehouse and ask for no tax subsidies."

Council member John Goffredo, who initially seemed supportive, was bothered by the fact that the County would have no say in how the property was redeveloped. He even suggested that a developer could demolish the building. "Until I have more control, I don't think I could support something like this," he said. 

Should County Council decide to approve a watered down LERTA in two weeks, Executive Lamont McClure has hinted he will veto it.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Should Allentown Establish Buffer Zone Outside Planned Parenthood?

Last night, Allentown City Council considered establishing a 15' buffer zone outside its Planned Parenthood Center. The matter is being referred to a special committee so no action was taken. There was plenty of discussion, however, from members of the public. 

John Merwarth of the Bright Hope Pregnancy Support Center argued against a buffer. "What problems have occurred that make a buffer zone necessary?" he asked. Dr. Maria Matinez, an OB-Gyn research fellow, told Council that research shows a statistically significant link between abortion and higher rates of anxiety and depression. She said anti-abortion advocates at abortion clinics can enlighten women about pregnancy clinics that are completely free. "Having this buffer zone is not helping anybody. It is not helping America, It is not helping Allentown." 

Hannah Clarke (sp?) of Planned Parenthood had an different view. She said that anti-abortion advocates show up often, even on non-abortion days. She described prolifers as "harassing patients and making patients feel unsafe."  

Paz (sp?) Simpson supports a buffer. "As someone who is an expert in violence, we don't want to give anyone an opportunity to create violence. If we can create a space where these women get an education and can be safe along the way,that's great. ... I'm not pro-life or pro-choice, I'm pro-safety."

There are gauntlets outside polling precincts when people go to vote. Voters are besieged by candidates and campaigns out to secure last-minute votes. The Election Code provides, however, that active campaigning must cease within 10' of the polling place. I'm unaware of any attempt to attack this buffer as a violation of free speech. Thus, I do believe a buffer zone would hold up as a reasonable and very limited restriction on free speech. 

I have no knowledge whether women visiting Planned Parenthood are subject to bullying or harassment. I suspect they are because Planned Parenthood provides escorts.  

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Bethlehem City Council Chided Over Backyard Chicken Obsession

Bethlehem City Council had a loaded agenda last night. There were never-ending LERTAs, zoning changes, the proposed demolition of the Banana Factory for a cultural center to backyard chickens. There were plenty of speakers, too. Most were anxious to weigh in on a new cultural center proposed by Artsquest. There were a several backyard chicken supporters, but the big draw was Artsquest's desire to tear down the banana factory, which had previously been nixed by the South Side Historic Conservation Commission. Now Musikfest, which is put on by Artsquest, is scheduled to start on Thursday.  It's a busy time for Kassie Hilgert and her numerous employees and volunteers. Yet she and many of them had to sit through a nearly four meeting before the subject was broached. 

Mayor Willie Reynolds, who had previously told Council how busy the City was in getting ready for Musikfest, rebuked City Council for making Artsquest officials wait at their busiest time of the year. He suggested that, out of courtesy, the matter should have been heard before the City's other business.

When they did finally get to it, City Council agreed with the proposed demolition and new cultural center by a 5-2 vote. Council members Michael Colon, Paige Van Wirt, Grace Crampsie Smith, Hillary Kwiatek and Kiera Wilhelm sided with Artsquest, though they really, really, really, really respect the Historic Conservation Commission and love history. Council members Rachel Leon and Wandalyn Enix sided with the Historic Conservation Commission, though they really, really, really, really love the arts and Arstsquest. 

All too often, I see historic conservation commissions used to bludgeon homeowners with page after page of ridiculous rules and regulations that have little to do with history but a lot to do with making neighborhoods exclusive. Here, it was being used as a sledgehammer to prevent a nonprofit organization which has done everything it can to preserve much of the rusting hulks once known as the Steel Stacks. 

Historic preservation is great for old churches and libraries, but a banana factory? Give me a break.

Dr. Lee Reilly, a physician who dabbles with art, told Council that "[h]umans have a basic need to be creative," and thinks the proposed cultural center will ignite artistic sparks in children for decades to come. 

Wait a minute, what about those damn chickens? 

Well, civil rights leader Esther Lee, church hat and all, addressed City Council about what certainly seemed like misplaced priorities. She said she'd like to see that much enthusiasm for the homeless.  

By the way, City Council decided to delay its vote for two weeks. Council member Paige Van Wirt, who had assured mayor Willie Reynolds just two weeks ago that she had all the details, apparently missed a few. Council President Michael Colon had to introduce a series of amendments, which must be advertised before a vote. So backyard chickens will have to wait two weeks, where another 100 people can come again. 

How does Mayor Reynolds feel about all this, asked President Michael Colon. 

"This is your ordinance, not ours," snapped Reynolds. He went on to note that the City has a lot of serious problems. "There are a lot of things on fire right now. On a 1 to 10 level, we're an 11." He went on to note that  there are 40 vacancies at City Hall, but workers who are left have been besieged with calls from people seeking chicken permits. He said that some of them even want "dreamer" permits for chickens who came to Bethlehem illegally, through no fault of their own, when they were little chickadees. His health director is dealing with monkeypox, Covid and other public health issues, but now has to deal with chickens.  

Call me cRaZy, but I'm beginning to think Hizzoner will veto chickens. 

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

What's In the Inflation Reduction Act?

I thought I'd summarize key provisions of the 725 page Inflation Reduction Act, which can and probably will be passed without a single Republican vote through a process called reconciliation. 

The bill will spend $500 billions, and Democrats contend it will reduce inflation.

First, the IRS will receive $80 billion, well in excess of its annual $13 billion budget. Of this $80 nbillion, $45 billion will be used to step up tax enforcement and audits. The IRS predicts it can collect an extra $204 billion, which means a net gain of $124 billion. 

Second, $385 billion will be spent on climate and green energy initiatives, including $20 billion in $7.500 tax credits for those who purchase new electric vehicles and a $4,000 tax credit for those who buy used. This sum of $385 billion is what the $1,400 stimulus checks cost the federal government. The goal is to make green energy cheaper than fossil fuel. Democrats also contend this will reduce carbon emissions 40% by 2030. 

Third, $100 billion will be spent on health care . Medicare will be given the green light to negotiate drug prices for the first time. Obamacare will be beefed up for the next three years.

Fourth, the bill imposes the largest corporate tax increase (15% minimum tax) in decades while simultaneously closing loopholes. 

Democrats contend that, while spending $500 billion, the government will get back $800 billion as follows: IRS - $204 billion; corporate minimum tax - $313 billion; Negotiating drug prices - $288 billion in government savings; and close tax loopholes - $14 billion. This, they contend, will reduce inflation.

Penn Wharton contends this bill will actually increase inflation until 2024, and then decrease it thereafter. It basically concludes it will have no net effect  

Republicans believe the bill will actually increase inflation and add "to the suffering of Americans," as Senator Lindsay Graham has observed.   

Tour de France, Here I Come!

 


For weeks, I've been scouring Craigslist, bike shops and Facebook Marketplace for a road bike. I like to commute to and from the courthouse and figure the ride should be easier if I actually use a road bike. Last night, I lucked out and was able to purchase a used Trek 5500  road bike, the same bike used by Lance Armstrong and the US Postal Service Pro Cycling Team in the Tour de France. Armstrong and I have something in common. He was the subject of doping allegations and I'm already a dope. 

Believe it or not, this bike really is carbon fiber. I thought it would be an aluminum replica. Also, the seller gave me cycling shoes that actually fit me and a seat bag containing a spare tube. He was very kind.

I got on the bike last night and it is undeniably fast, much faster than I thought it would be. It will take me some time to get used to shifting and braking, but I think it is going to be a lot easier than my hybrid or mountain bike for commutes to the courthouse.  At his moment, however, I'm a bit intimidated.  

I will be taking it to Action Wheels (my favorite shop) today to replace the pedals with flat pedals. Like Joe Biden, I already crashed while trying to get my foot out of the clip. 

Berks County Housing Authority Will Manage NorCo Housing Authority Properties

Northampton County Housing Authority administers a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, two public housing developments geared to the elderly and disabled and one low income housing tax credit property.  The management of these programs is a highly specialized field requiring detailed knowledge of HUD regulations. In recent years, Northampton County Housing Authority relied on Lehigh County Housing Authority to manage these programs. When tenants of one public housing development complained about Lehigh, Northampton County Council invited Lehigh to a meeting to respond. Lehigh did provide a written response and made some changes, but it declined to appear. Instead, it gave notice that it was ending its arrangement with Northampton County Housing Authority. 

Effective yesterday, Berks County Housing Authority is now managing the Northampton County Housing Authority programs.

It should be noted that housing authorities are separate state agencies and are independent of the county governments creating them.  

Monday, August 01, 2022

Republicans Are Their Own Worse Enemy

Democrats are poised to lose control of the House and possibly the Senate in this year's midterm elections. But Republicans, who are their own worst enemy, have all but assured a Democratic victory in the Governor and Senate race this Fall. Moreover, I believe they'll hold on in the Pa.7th, where incumbent Susan Wild faces Lisa Scheller. 

Governor's Race. - I don't like Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro. His entire life has been in a bubble, isolated from the working man he wants to champion. He's going to win easily. He is well-educated, very bright and as smooth as they get when it comes to campaigning. He makes no mistakes. 

In contrast, Doug Mastriano is a poster boy for everything that's wrong with the Republican party. He represents its fascist faction, and will get no votes from Democrats, most independents and even some Republicans. 

That race is already over. 

John Fetterman. - I also dislike John Fetterman. He poses as the common man, right down to the tattoos and his relaxed attire. But as Lt Governor, the only thing he managed to do is piss off Republicans by constantly flying a marijuana flag. He did nothing for Braddock, where he was Mayor, except to give the tiny black-majority borough an even more negative image. 

He'll beat Mehmet Oz, the TV doctor who is now trying his hardest to distance himself from Donald Trump, the man he embraced during the primary. Many Trump loyalists are unenthusiastic about this New Jersey transplant. Fetterman is killing him in the money race, too. 

This will be a bit closer than the Shapiro race, but this is Fetterman's to lose. 

Wild-Scheller. - Attempts to portray Wild as part of the squad are absurd. Yes, she votes with Pelosi, and those two are more partisan Democrat than enthusiasts of the far-left agenda.  What's going to save her is Lisa Scheller. It';s hard to justify her decision to manufacture paint pigments in China. We should avoid doing business with our enemies, as we recently learned with Russia's invasion of Ukraine.   

Republican will lose three seats they should have won.