Monday, October 31, 2022

Paul Pelosi Pounding Results in Conspiracy Theories

Last week, in a recap of the Pa.-7 Congressional debate between incumbent Susan Wild and challgener Lisa Scheller, I told you they both are good people. Scheller maintains two factories in China, so she's conflicted. I question whether she'd be representing the people of this district or her business interest. In that story, I also pointed to her ties to extremists like Steve Lynch. So did Wild during the debate. 

Scheller refused to distance herself from the failed NorCo Exec candidate, who threatened last year to bring "20 strong men" to remove Northampton Area School Directors over, of all things, a mask mandate. She pointed out that he has never been charged with a crime. Nit yet. By his own admission, he was visited by the FBI concerning the extent of his participation in the attempted coup on January 6. Most recently, Nazareth police were called to a restaurant hosting a local Republican  meeting when he refused the owner's demand that he leave. So give him time. 

Instead of condemning the brutal hammer assault of the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Lynch has used the occasion to spin ridiculous conspiracy theories based on a source that has been discredited for posting disinformation. 

In the Facebook rant you can read yourself, Lynch calls the incident "[l]ies told by the speaker of the house to cover up the fact that her husband was messing around with a  male prostitute."  Mr. Toxic Masculinity  then brays that Pelosi's husband "is a drunken scumbag that prefers male prostitutes over your decrepit bag of bones."

Now I'll admit that Lynch, who makes constant references to men and likes to post half naked pictures of himself, is far more knowledgeable about male prostitutes than I. Nevertheless, his rant is just a continuation of the divisive rhetoric that led an unhinged man to physically hurt someone. 

Lisa Scheller has continued to embrace this divisive narcissist instead of standing up for decency and inclusion. 

Just like she did with Trump. 

Friday, October 28, 2022

Lehigh Valley Voter Stats Show Dems Losing Voters While Rs and Indies Make Gains

Here are the voting numbers as of October 4, 2022, for both NorCo and Lehigh, compared to what they were in 2016, when Trump was elected President. 

Northampton County

Total: 222,993, compared to 211,402 in 2016.

Democrats: 98,504, compared to 99,075 in 2016.  Democrats account for 44.2% of the total registration, compared to 47% in 2016. 

Republicans: 81,144, compared to 73,473 in 2016. Republican registration increased from 34.8% to 36.4% of the total registration.  

Other: 43,345, compared to 38,854 in 2016. Independents increased from 18.4% to 19.4% of the total number of registered voters. 

Lehigh County

Total: 237,058, compared to 236.081 in 2016.

Democrats: 111,309, compared to 115,745 in 2016. Democrats account for 47% of the total registration, compared to 49% in 2016.

Republicans: 82,363, compared to 80,623 in 2016. Republicans account for 35% of the total registration, compared to 34.2% in 2016.

Other: 43,386, compared to 39,713 in 2016. Independents account for 18.3% of the total registration, compared to 16.8% in 2016.

Key Takeaways: Democrats are losing registered voters. Republicans and Independents are making gains. 

Early Voting Ends on Tuesday

The deadline for early voting at the courthouse or to apply for a Mail-in-Ballot for the General Election is Tuesday, November 1st at 5:00PM.

Applications can be filed at the Elections Office or on-line at https://www.vote.pa.gov/"

Thursday, October 27, 2022

The Scheller-Wild Debate on Public Television

Incumbent Democrat Susan Wild and Republican challenger Lisa Scheller have faced each other twice in their battle for control of the Pa.-7 Congressional District. But there was really only one debate. Their first meeting at WFMZ's Business Matters was a shit show in which the audience, most of them Wild supporters, disrupted Scheller every time she opened her mouth. At their second encounter, conducted by LehighValleyNews.com, the candidates were able to actually speak without being interrupted by a mob. I was very impressed by Scheller. Don't get me wrong. I disagree with much of what she says, but she was well-prepared and well-spoken. and she appeared to be nearly as good on her feet as Wild, an accomplished trial lawyer. My biggest problem with Scheller is that I'm unable to get past her factories in China and her business deals with the Chinese Communist Party. My biggest problem with Wild is that I've never seen her run a positive campaign. You can find the video steam of this debate at C-SPAN.  

I've already voted for Wild, but I like Lisa Scheller. There's a lot to like. I rarely agreed with her positions as a Lehigh County Comm'r, but believe she was motivated by what she thought was best for her community. She is one of very few people I've met who actually overcame a heroin addiction. In addition to her own recovery, she established Hope & Coffee in Tamaqua for others who are in recovery. If you visit Lehigh County Community College, you'll soon see that she and her family have been major benefactors.  She herself recently established a scholarship program enabling high school juniors and seniors to take college courses. And of course, she is the only female CEO in her industry.  

Wild can be very likable as well. She is far more down-to-earth than most politicos and is very approachable, as most Facebook users can attest. She's a "military brat" who grew  up in numerous places, both here and abroad. This probably gave her a far keener insight of foreign countries than most of us possess. She practiced law for over 30 years before entering the political fray.  She served briefly as Allentown's Solicitor during the demise of "Fed Ed", and was praised by federal authorities for making sure that there was complete cooperation from the City.  As Scheller has a deep understanding of addiction, Wild recognizes the importance of mental health after going through the tragedy of losing a loved one to suicide. 

My knock on Wild is that she is a dirty campaigner. Even in the erudite atmosphere of public television, she was unable to refrain from referring to Scheller as "Lying Lisa." Then during the same debate, she claimed to "hate" negative campaigning. If Scheller is "Lying Lisa," Wild is "Shifty Susan."  

The sad part is that much of the negative campaigning from both of these candidates has been misleading. 

During two terms in Congress, Wild by her own admission has had only one bill adopted. She did claim to be responsible for numerous amendments that receive little attention.  She refers to herself as a "proud moderate," which is hard to reconcile with voting 100% for whatever Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants. Wild has always been a partisan Democrat. It's what landed her the job as Allentown's Solicitor. 

Scheller claims to be an "outsider," but journalist Tom Shortell challenged that assertion during the debate.  She was a Lehigh County Commissioner, was endorsed by Trump two years ago and has contributed $250,000 to Republicans seeking office. That's no outsider. That's a walking ATM machine. 

So both Wild and Scheller, like all of us, have their good and bad points. 

Scheller's embrace of extremists like Steve Lynch and her willingness to latch onto Team Trump two years ago would likely be enough to cause ne to vote for Wild. But what really did her in with me is not her embrace of Lynch or Trump, but the Chinese Communist Party. Her company has two factories in China with a third in its way. It's even reportedly building a road.  So in addition to being a walking ATM machine for Republicans, she's a walking conflict of interest. There would always be a question whether she is representing her district or her business interests in a country we consider our greatest adversary. 

When Shortell questioned Scheller on this point, she responded, "I know China and I will be able to stand up to China because my grandparents came here from Europe seeking that American dream. I will put American people and jobs first."

As an engineer who presumably deals in logic, Scheller should know her answer is a non sequitur. The fact that her grandparents fled Europe is no indication that she either knows China or is able to stand up to that country. If she considers American people and jobs so important, why on earth would she build two factories in our greatest adversary?

At one point, Scheller told Shortell that his facts were wrong. If that's so, I'd like to know what's wrong to set the record straight. 

Scheller then went on to accuse Wild of giving foreign aid to China. I've seen nothing that backs that up. I have seen that Wild supports legislation to strengthen our technology and improve our supply chain so we can compete with China. 

They are both good people, nothing like the ugly ads you've seen. But they are both flawed, which explains the ugly ads. 

State Auditor General Finds Gracedale Funds Spent Properly

In what he calls a "performance audit," State Auditor General Timothy DeFoor has determined that costs incurred at Gracedale and reimbursed by the state Department of Human Services were both supported by documentation and in accord with applicable law. This finding is based on a review of 60 claims over a one-year period

While this demonstrates that costs are being reimbursed appropriately and is good news, it is far from a complete review of the nursing home's entire operations.  County Council, over the veto of Executive Lamont McClure, is seeking a performance study of the entire operation at Gracedale. 

Performance Audit at Gracedale by BernieOHare on Scribd

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

UPDATED: We Needed a Mercy Rule in Fetterman-Oz Debate

I never expected John Fettrman to be more polished than Mehmet Oz, a celebrity TV doctor, in last night's debate in Pa.'s US Senate race.  But I did expect him to be better informed, more prepared and less vacuous than he at times appeared. He wasn't. He instead betrayed the same defensive and evasive attitude as when he was interviewed, one-on-one a few weeks ago by NBC journalist Dasha Burns. It was a disaster. 

I suspect that many partisan Democrats knew this would happen. A few hours before the debate, pro-Democratic Salon published a story asking, "Why haven't Democrats realized that debates don't matter?"  If you believe in democracy, you should. And if you believe in a representative democracy, there is no way you could seriously consider John Fetterman a suitable representative for the Keystone State.  He was so bad that a mercy rule should have ended it after a half hour. 

Even the New York Times, which provided live analysis from several left-leaning journalists. Here are some takeaways: 

"Understanding the questions does not seem to be a problem for [Fetterman] tonight, but he’s been tripping over his words, and his answers feel rushed at times."

"If one of the knocks on Oz is that he’s a lightweight, he’s setting out to prove otherwise tonight."

"At times, when Fetterman pauses, it is impossible to know whether he is doing so because he is reading the closed captions, or because he is grasping for a word."

"[T]he moderator has [Fetterman] dead to rights here on taking multiple contradictory stances on fracking."

"Mr. Fetterman’s verbal stumbles and halting style do not reflect a problem with his brain, his doctors say. He has an auditory processing disorder, which means that his brain hears subtle differences in sound differently than before his stroke. And even before his stroke, Fetterman was not nearly as polished a communicator as Oz."

Before the debate, Fetterman and Oz were in a statistical dead heat. After the debate, I expect to see Oz pull away. 

The US Senate race is over. Fetterman can return to his job as Mayor of Braddock. 

Updated 1 pm. "Mr." v. "Dr."? - A few of you noted that last night's debate moderators referred to Dr. Oz as Mr. Oz and wondered whether that was an attempt to demean him, especially since First Lady Jill Biden is routinely referred to as Dr. Jill Biden. I believe these local journalists got it right, and that those who refer to Jill Biden as "Dr. Jill Biden" are incorrect. 

The style guides of media outlets like the Inky instructs to avoid the use of titles unless they are relevant to the story. So if Jill Biden were speaking about education, she could properly be referred to as Dr. If Mehmet Oz were discussing heart valves, he could be called Dr. But in political theater, it is both irrelevant and can result in unequal treatment. 

Interestingly, in England, surgeons are called "Mr." And in Germany, they are called "Herr Doktor." 

Locally, Bethlehem City Council member is a physician, and Wandalyn Enix is a Ph.D.  But that's irrelevant to what they do on City Council and should be referred to as Ms. or by surname instead of by degree. I will try to remember that in future stories, and I'm sure I'll be reminded when I forget.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Yes, Other Countries Are Pulling Their Weight in Ukraine Aid

Infographic: The Countries Pulling Their Weight in Ukraine Aid | Statista Yesterday, in response to my latest story about the Russo-Ukraine War, one of my more ignorant readers stated it was his "feeling" that other countries are doing nothing to help. That, of course, is nonsense.

In absolute terms, the US has provided the most help, with over $54 billion in military, humanitarian and financial aid. But in terms of pulling their own weight, the US ranks only 8th. Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Lithuania, Norway, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have all contributed higher percentages of their GDP than the US.   

Germany has provided $1.16 billion in aid. This is a remarkable turnaround in a country that has understandably been a post WWII pacifist. Let's not forget that Germany and other European countries are going to feel an energy crunch from General Winter unlike anything we experience in the US. 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has initiated a zeitenwende (change of direction) in defense policy. While this nation has yet to assert itself as the primus inter pares of European security, Putin has united NATO and the EU in ways no one thought possible before his attempted  regime change  and genocide in Ukraine.  

Monday, October 24, 2022

RT Commentator Suggests Ukrainian Children Be Drowned

I have previously told you about the Holodomor, the deliberate starvation of 3.9 million Ukrainian children on orders from Stalin from 1931-1932.  He even blocked roads to prevent people from fleeing  Genocide of Ukrainians by Russians is nothing new. We see this every day now, from drones and missiles aimed at playgrounds and apartment buildings to a plan to blow up a dam and drown residents in the Kherson region. 

This ugly disdain was also revealed recently on Russian television. A talking head there suggested Ukrainian children should be drowned or burned alive, laughed at reports of the rapes of Ukrainian women, said Ukraine should not exist and advocated shooting Ukrainians who resist.

They're already doing that. 

This Russian commentator has been suspended, but said nothing that isn't already happening. 

I stand with Ukraine. 

GOVERNING: Vaccine Skepticism Is Contagious

It's that time of year. People who want to minimize their chances of being infected with the seasonal flu should be getting their vaccine now, especially since the flu this year has had a head start. But compared to last year, fewer people are getting them. It appears that the skepticism of COVID-19 antivaxers is contagious to the more traditional vaccines. 

During the week ending October 1, 10.5 million flu vaccinations were administered in pharmacies compared with an estimated 11.5 million the previous year. An estimated 6.1 million flu vaccinations were administered in physician medical offices compared with an estimated 8.5 million the previous year.

Even more troubling, schoolchildren are missing out on traditional vaccines for diseases like measles, mumps and rulella. According to GOVERNING, one out of every eight children in California between four and six years of age, remained unvaccinated this summer. Vaccination rates were down by double digits in Arkansas and Virginia. In D.C., 20,000 kids were behind on routine shots at the beginning of the school year. 

Pediatricians report that kids are being accompanied by their father, not mother, when they visit the doctor.  They refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated or to even discuss the matter.  

This has unfortunately become a partisan matter, especially when right-wingers like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ridiculously claim that masks and vaccines are a tool of the elite.  

GOVERNING establishes that DeSantis and others who have attempted to make vaccines a partisan issue, are sadly mistaken: 

"Since the start of the pandemic, Florida has suffered 381 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 population. By comparison, California has had 244. Numerous studies have shown that people in counties that vote Republican are dying at higher rates than those in Democratic counties. Vaccines are a big part of that story.

“Registered Republicans in Florida and Ohio had higher excess death rates than registered Democrats, driven by a large mortality gap in the period after all adults were eligible for vaccines,” according to a paper published last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The excess death rate was 76 percent higher among Republicans than Democrats. "The gap in excess death rates between Republicans and Democrats is concentrated in counties with low vaccination rates and only materializes after vaccines became widely available."

If you want to resist the COVID-19 vaccine, knock yourself out. Unless you're in the health profession, I support your right to kill yourself. But please think twice before refusing to allow your children to receive traditional vaccines for some serious illnesses.  

Friday, October 21, 2022

UPDATED: NorCo Council Hears More About Employee Health Center

In August, Integrity Health Centers gave presentation to Northampton County Council for a health center that would provide primary care exclusive to county employees and possibly to retirees as well. County Council wanted to know whether a health center could actually reduce costs. Integrity Health Center returned on Wednesday to explain that a health center would not just be good for the workforce, but would save considerable money to the County as well. 

Since 2014, Northampton County has imposed no increases in the co-pays of county employees. But medical costs continue to rise in a county that us self-insured. In the proposed budget, an increase of $6.5 million, or 28%, is projected.  The total cost of medical care to county employees is estimated at nearly $30 million. A health center dedicated to county employees could reduce the cost of the county's medical care while improving the quality of health care offered. 

Who Is Integrity Health? - According to its website, Integrity offers "customized, patient-centered, cost-effective health programs built on the wisdom of coordinated care." It operates at six locations in New Jersey, with a seventh nearing completion in Lycoming County. Its Chair is 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.  From X-Rays to chronic disease management to routine lab tests, it offers extensive primary care

How Does This Benefit Employees? - They and their dependents receive family-doctor style care whenever they feel the need. Visits occur strictly on a voluntary, no co-pay basis, with same-day visits.  Based on what has occurred at his other employee health centers, Forrester projects 12,000 visits in the first year. 

There is reduced waiting time, one-stop shopping and even claim advocacy for workers to ensure that health claims are adjudicated in accordance with the plan's requirements.  

Before bringing this idea to Council, Executive Lamont McClure sent a survey to all county employees. Those who responded liked the idea. So did President Judge Michael Koury and DA Terry Houck. 

How Does This Benefit the County? -  In a lengthy memo to Council, Forrester projects a return on investment (ROI) between 1.8 and 2.2. "If  the annual operating cost of the center were $100,  that means health care costs would be between $180 and $220 lower. These ROIs have been determined by outside actuaries, not Forrester.  By reducing health costs to the county, it can chip away at the substantial increases seen in the cost of health care.

According to Forrester, the cost of a health center would be about two percent of the county's budget for health care. 

Will the Center Include Retirees? - According to Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron, that determination has yet to be made.  That will likely affect the size of the building, currently projected at 8,400 sq ft. 

Council Skepticism. - Council member Kerry Myers had a criticism, not of the idea itself, but the survey. Only 20% of the county workforce responded to the survey, which bothered him. 

Council President Lori Vargo Heffner tried to suggest that a health center is akin to a new plan and should be rolled out with other plans. But she's mistaken. The health center would be a service like Teleadoc, and would be available regardless what plan an employee might have.

It should be noted that Vargo Heffner is employed by St. Luke's a possible competitor to this health center. She has recused herself from voting on hospital bonds and is at least arguably conflicted.  

Council member John Goffredo criticized the project itself. Interestingly, Goffredo is the person who wanted to know the ROI. Having been provided with that information in detail, he switched his criticism to the $45 per hour salary of the RN, claiming it is too low in an area with hospitals that pay more. But Judy Lagana, herself a former hospital exec before joining Integrity, said these salaries are designed for nurses who desire a "work, life balance." She indicated there are less hours at a health center, as opposed to a hospital, and less pressure. She said she has experienced no turnover at Integrity's other locations, with the exception of receptionists. 

Goffredo also called the idea a "luxury." And why not provide a luxury to a county workforce when it  also saves the county (and its taxpayers) money?  The real question is why there are so few of these health centers. 

Council is doing its job and exercising oversight. But I believe that eventually, they will come to the same conclusion I have. It's a good idea, even though it comes from a Republican.   

UPDATED 10 AM: Below is Integrity Health's Proposal and explanation of how this saves money.

NorCo Health Center by BernieOHare on Scribd

A Party Line Vote by NorCo Council For a Bathroom

Yesterday, I told you that Northampton County Council was asked to approve three contracts totaling $261,000 to replace a bathroom at Louise Moore Park. This proposal was attacked by Council member John Goffredo because the contracts being considered  were under a Responsible Contactor Ordinance (RCO), first adopted in 2018. He argued that a local, nonunion contractor who pays a prevailing wage and posts a bond should be able to bid on these projects. 

At last night''s County Council meeting, the contracts were awarded to union contractors along a rare, party-line vote. Democrats Kevin Lott, Tara Zrinski, Kerry Myers, Ron Heckman and Lori Vargo Heffner voted to award the contracts. Republicans John Goffredo, John Brown, Tom Giovanni and John Cusick voted No.  

I do agree that the RCO should be amended to provide that, if no contactors who have an apprenticeship within a 25-mile radius submit a bid, the county should be able to consider bids from local contractors who pay prevailing wage, post a bond, and employ citizens or permanent residents.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

NorCo's RCO Ordinance Comes Under Fire

In 2018, Northampton County Council adopted a "responsible contractor ordinance." It requires all contractors who are bidding on county contracts valued at or over $250,000 to have in place a Class A apprenticeship program for each craft or trade employed. This ordinance was adopted despite claims by one long-time county contractor, Ric Reppert, that it would render his company ineligible to bid on future work. That's because his employees learned their craft through on-the-job training or a technical school instead of an apprenticeship that is more common in the trade unions.  He argued the ordinance, if adopted, would limit the labor pool and favor unions. The county countered that this law would ensure that county work is done by skilled workers and ultimately save the county money. A federal lawsuit attacking this ordinance failed because, as Judge Edward Smith observed, there was a rational basis for requiring an apprenticeship program.  While there may be a rational basis for this law in legal theory, how have things worked out in the four years since this ordinance was adopted? Is the county having difficulty finding bidders for construction projects? Or has it saved taxpayers money?  This was a concern raised by Council member John Goffredo last night at a committee meeting. 

At issue was a $261,000 bathroom replacement project at Louise Moore Park. Bids were sought for a general contractor, electrician and plumber. There was one bid for electrical, one bid for the general contractor and no bids were received from a plumber despite two bid attempts Public Works Director Mike Emili stated the county was then forced to seek out a plumbing contractor based in Reading.

"I think it's causing a problem," noted Goffredo, who himself is involved in the contracting business. He added that some of the contractors chosen are from outside the Lehigh Valley as well. "We know when nobody is bidding jobs, and then we jack our numbers up. ... It's not good when we're only getting only one bid over and over again." He indicated nonunion contractors would abide by the living wage standard of a county contract, would be local and would be required to post a bond. 

Fiscal Affairs Director Steve Barron countered that many contractors decline to bid because of supply chain issues, unavailability or an inability to meet timetables. He agreed with Goffredo's assertion that this could make the county "vulnerable" to bidders, but the county also solicits "experts in the field" and Purchasing to ensure the best deal possible and often favors vendors with whom they've worked well in the past. In some instances, like the jail's food contract, there usually is only one contractor who can meet the specs. He added that, when forced to negotiate directly with a contractor, the county will bring the contract to Council, as it did in this instance. 

"We have tons of people who access our bids all the time," noted Barron.  

Council member John Brown echoed Goffredo. "There are a number of contractors in this county that would be bidding on a number of these projects and we don't really have a frame of reference. I think it's artificial and I think it's costing the county taxpayers more money in the long run. You're taking money out of local company businesses that could be doing work for the county, that have done work for the county prior to the [Responsible Contractor Ordinance], ... I think it's a disservice to the taxpayers of Northampton County." 

The county's forensic center, located at Gracedale's campus, is the biggest project undertaken since the Responsible Contractor Ordinance went into effect, Barron noted it was finished ahead of schedule and under budget. I believe Executive Lamont McClure told Council previously that one of the contractors involved was nonunion. 

While it's certainly true that the number of bids for a bathroom replacement at Louise Moore Park is low, it is unclear to me whether that is the norm. After four years of a responsible contractor ordinance, there's probably enough data to determine if taxpayers are being exploited or well-served.  I will try to find out, but it will be a bit of a project.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

The Problem With Allentown's Proposed Budget

Mayor Matt Tuerk, in his budget message, proclaims that his budget differs from previous years because it is a zero-based budget, meaning that all expenses must be justified. His final spending plan is for !38.6 million. This exceeds 2022's approved budget by $13.8 million, and this is after using $5 million in federal Rescue Plan Act funding. So it's pretty clear that he just gave most department heads whatever they wanted, and is relying on City Council to make cuts.  That's hardly a zero-based budget. 

To add insult to injury, he's also warning that a tax hike and new debt next year is likely. That's incredible when his own budget message makes clear that there will still be nearly $5 million in unspent Rescue Plan Act funding. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Malissa Davis RIP

Malissa Davis, VP of Bethlehem Tp's Board of  Commissioners, passed away on Friday after a lengthy illness.  She had served on Bethlehem Tp's Board since 2016, and prior to that, was a regular at their biweekly meetings. 

An environmentalist, Davis was initially drawn to township government by the rapid pace of development in a once rural area. Her background at Foster Wheeler as a cost estimator enabled her to wade through the weeds of line items at budget time. She also was an advocate for open government. She encouraged public comment and organized informal monthly "Meet the Commissioners" meetings at the community center to hear the concerns of residents. 

Tuerk Failed to Enforce Carbon Monoxide Ordinance at DayCare Where 32 Were Hospitalized

Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk released next year's proposed spending plan at a much ballyhooed news conference yesterday.  As important as it is to herald a no-tax-increase budget, that pales when compared to the lives of 32 people who were hospitalized on October 11 as the result of a carbon monoxide leak at the Happy Smiles Learning Center. City mouthpiece Genesis Ortega made sure that the press knew that the day care center's license was suspended.  But she failed to disclose that this whole incident would never have happened but for her boss's failure to implement a law requiring carbon monoxide detectors at all daycares. In fact, she misled them to believe this law would only take effect on October 27.  I'm here to give you the facts. 

On February 16,  all seven members of Allentown City  Council voted to adopt Amendments to the existing Child Care Facility Ordinance. These changes were proposed by the City's Health Department to "provide safer, improved services for Allentown families relying on daycare." Its priority status was "ASAP." The Ordinance specifically provides that "[s]moke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors shall be present and functioning in accordance with City of Allentown Fire Codes."  It also provides for inspections at least once a year." It finally provides that it is to "take effect 10 days after final passage."

If Mayor Tuerk had any reservations about this Ordinance, he could have vetoed it. But he signed it into law on February 21 according to the Certification of City Council Clerk Mike Hanlon. So this Ordinance became effective on February 26, well before the near fatal tragedy at Happy Smiles. 

After this ordinance was signed into law and became effective, the City actually inspected Happy Smiles in July. Instead of requiring that carbon monoxide detectors be installed immediately, it did nothing. This is because Mayor Matt Tuerk took it upon himself to decide that, in defiance of an unanimously adopted Ordinance that he himself signed into law, he would arbitrarily change its effective date from 10 days to October 27. 

Any act that amends an Ordinance requires an act of equal dignity. To change the effective date of a city law, City Council would have to adopt a new ordinance. Tuerk never made the request. He instead just  waved his magic wand. 

His refusal to follow the plain letter of the law could have killed 32 people. 

From local to federal, this is yet another instance of an Executive branch claiming authority it lacks.

I've heard rumors that some members of City Council are mulling over a voter of no confidence in Tuerk. I'd think that needlessly endangering the lives of 32 people qualifies.  

Monday, October 17, 2022

Tuerk Terminates Parks Director - Others May Have Been Fired as Well

Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk  Karen El-Chaar, first confirmed as Allentown's Director of Parks and Recreation in 2018, has been terminated. She herself has confirmed that she has been fired. She may not be alone.  According to Allentown sources, the Tuerk tomahawk has also landed on Human Relations Officer Tatiana Tooley and IT Director Matt Leibert. 

El-Chaar, a Temple Law school graduate, had previously served as Executive Director of Friends of Allentown Parks for nearly nine years. As Parks and Rec Director, she was responsive to the public. Even parks critic Michael Molovinsky lauded her for addressing some of the dilapidated WPA structures.  

In addition to her role with Allentown, El-Chaar teaches at Cedar Crest and heads the board at WDIY.  She is rightfully proud of her accomplishments.  

In an email, Mayor Matt Tuerk (He/Him/His) confirms he fired El-Chaar. "Karen served the City well prior to her time as Director of Parks and Recreation and helped get our us through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. I wish her well in future endeavors. "

Tuerk has a temporary replacement in place.  

"Effective immediately, Rick Holtzman will serve as the Interim Director of Parks and Recreation while we begin the search for a permanent Director of Parks and Recreation. Rick will apply his decades of experience to keeping parks projects moving, our parks maintained, and recreation programs functioning. I hope to have a new candidate shortly."

I am in the process of confirming from Mayor Tuerk whether HR Officer Tooley and IT Director Leibert are also victims of the chopping block.  I learned of their possible termination after I received his email concerning El-Chaar. 

Leonard Lighter, who was named by Tuerk as his "Chief Operating Officer" in February, stepped down in July. He now is with the City of Chester. 

Online Newspaper Headlines Should Be Decided by Editors, Not Google

State Senate candidate Dean Browning
Last week, Allentown blogger Michael Molovinsky slammed The Morning Call over an election story slamming State Senate candidate Dean Browning for supposedly impersonating a gay, black guy.  What Michael failed to realize at the time is that this lead story was actually two years old. And while a Morning Call editor took Molovinsky to task for complaining about a two-year-old story, the editor himself failed to realize that this ancient episode had somehow become the lead. Apparently, the online newspaper allows Google to decide what is important.  This is a great way for candidates to use the online editions of newspapers to their advantage. 

Morning Call's Mike Miorelli 
The two-year old story noted that Dean Browning, who is very miserable and white, may have been masquerading online as a gay, black guy. Dean is too straight-laced and intelligent to pull off something quite that remarkably stupid. But his opponent, Nick Miller, has rightly been having fun with this story, and was blasting it all over social media.  Nick probably had no idea that these social media ads would pay a divided that resulted in a two year old story topping the online edition of The Morning Call's "Lehigh Valley News". In effect, The Morning Call has been advertising Nick's campaign. This is great for Nick, but does undermine the newspaper's reputation for objectivity. 

Editor Mike Miorelli, and not Google algorithms, should decide what stories lead, especially during election cycles. 

Friday, October 14, 2022

Affordable Housing and Julius Caesar

These days, there's lots of talk about the need for affordable housing. But not much in the way of action. That would require bold action, and we have no bold leaders. But there was a time when a very bold leader dealt with an affordable housing crisis. That leader was Gaius Julius Caesar. 

Despite all the claims to the contrary, Rome was never a Republic. Its unelected Senate was an oligarchy composed of aristocrats who modestly referred to themselves as patricians or optimates (the best men).  These best men realized they could become even richer by exploiting the lands around Rome, known as the ager publicus. These lands had been farmed by the populares or plebeians (commoners) and kept the city fed. But these plebs, in addition to feeding Rome, also fed the legions that were in a constant state of warfare. While the were off being patriots, the optimates would buy up their land and begin farming them with slaves that plebs captured during Rome's wars. Displaced, these plebs were forced to live in urban centers and pay high rents to the very same optimates who had displaced them.  They were victims of agrarian displacement, something that has been pretty much replicated in this country as giant corporations have bought up small farms. Today's slaves are machinery and migrant workers. 

Caesar was born a patrician but his family had fallen on hard times. He grew up in the very same tenements in which the plebs were crowded. This no doubt gave him an understanding of their plight.  He tended to side with them. We all know Caesar as perhaps the most brilliant military commander the world has ever seen, but he was also a reformer. Here are some of the tings he did when he was able.

- He founded new settlements for veterans as well as 80,000 proletariat. The best lands around Rome went to 20,000 poor families with three or more children. 

- Like FDR's New Deal, Caesar sent many proletarians on repair projects of cities in the colonies or for public works in Rome. 

- Like today's living wage laws, he required large landowners to employ free men instead of slaves for 1/3 of their workforce. This reduced unemployment and crime while trimming the profit margins of the optimates. 

- Caesar remitted a year of rent for those in low or moderate income dwellings. 

- He imposed taxes on luxury imports to encourage domestic production while forcing optimates to pay for their luxuries. 

- He eliminated tax farming and capped taxes in the provinces. 

- He abolished fines on debtors unable to make payments and reduced and, in some cases, eliminated interest. 

He was reversing the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few at the expense of the many. Naturally, the optimates killed him. 

Passed Over Again!

Over the weekend, a shitload of Northampton County residents received major awards for being outstanding in various bullshit categories like volunteers, veterans, youth, emergency workers, etc. Once again, I was omitted. And this was after Exec Lamont McClure assured me I was a winner in the Youth category. To rub salt in the wound, he gave a major award to fellow blogger Matt Dees. But that's not what pisses me off. What really outrages me is that, once again, I've been overlooked for a Nobel Prize. Since my blog is largely fiction, I thought I had a lock on Literature. 

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Fetterman's NBC Interview Raises Concerns About Transparency, Not Stroke

If you're still undecided about the US Senate race here in Pa., I'd recommend that you watch the John Fetterman interview broadcast on NBC. It's his first full interview after suffering a stroke in early May. He's unable to process questions fully and used closed captioning to understand questions. He did occasionally flub words, but that's understandable. What bothers me is that he refuses to release his medical records while simultaneously claiming to be transparent. That's hypocritical. Release of his medical records would reveal, once and for all, whether he has necrosis. If he does, that's a problem. If he refuses to tell us, that's a problem. 

I also felt he was both evasive and defensive in an interview conducted in his own home. 

Instead of addressing his evasion and defensiveness, his acolytes have responded by pulling a page out of the Republican playbook and have instead attacked the reporter (Dasha Burns) who interviewed him.  

Anti-Boscola Ad Brutally Effective

 



In yesterday's mail, I received the most effective political attack ad I've seen in years. It's so good you could frame it and send it to a museum. It is aimed at State Senator Lisa Boscola, who is seeking re-election to yet another term. Her opponent is is Bethlehem Tp Comm'r and combat veteran John Merhottein. I don't know who came up with it, but the state Republican party has paid for it. 

Why do I consider this ad so effective? 

1) It is aimed at everyone. 
2) It has a union bug, which is something old school Dems like myself like to see on political mailers.
3) The picture on the front is a blue collar worker, and starts by emphasizing that "working families struggle from inflation ... " 
4) It refers to Boscola as a "career politician," and on the reverse side of the mailer goes on to note that "after 24 years in Harrisburg, it's time for a change." 
5) It includes an unflattering grainy B&W image of Boscola, in which I first thought she was wearing a fur coat. 
6) It hammers her for voting "to spike our electricity rates by 400%," on both sides of the mailer.
7) It hits her for $58,000 in unaccountable per diems, which includes $650 a month for a state car and gas.
8) It slams her for taking two taxpayer-paid pensions as well as free healthcare for life.
9) It has footnotes linking to the source of each accusation.

The ad is devastating. My sole criticism is that it should have come out a week ago, before mail-in ballots were sent. 

In addition to the anti-Boscola ad, I received one from Boscola herself. In that one she claims to be working on property tax reform. She's been working on that since she arrived in Harrisburg and has nothing to show for it. The only time she mentions it is when she's up for re-election. Her ad just reinforces my belief she's been in office too long and is out of touch with actual working families. 

So do her campaign finance reports. One of her biggest payees, at over $20,000, is the Northampton Country Club. It's where she hosts the Senate Open every year. 

I voted for Merhottein. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Why We Need to Help Ukraine

Support for our assistance to Ukraine has been largely bipartisan. It's one of the few areas where Democrats and Republicans have agreed.  But there is a small group of people who think we should turn a blind eye while Russian thugs under the direction of Vladimir Putin commit atrocity after atrocity. The bombing of playgrounds and apartment buildings, the torture chambers and mass graves are thousands of miles away. Nothing to see here, these isolationists say.  This appeasement allowed Adolph Hitler to grab Czechoslovakia in 1939.  We all know how that ended. But we fail to learn. We basically did nothing when Putin grabbed Crimea in 2014. It is little wonder that Putin, like Hitler, would keep going.  

I can respect those among us who oppose war under any circumstances. It's unfortunately unrealistic. There's also a small contingent of far-right conservatives who want us to sit on our hands while Ukraine drowns in blood out of some misguided anger at the country for refusing to allow itself to be blackmailed by Trump.  The politics should stop when national security is threatened. We should actually be doing more to help, and I'll explain why. 

One of several failures of Barack Obama's foreign policy was his unwillingness to provide military support to Ukraine after Russia invaded in 2014. He did authorize $200 million for what essentially amounted to nonlethal aid for items like medical supplies and night-vision devices. At the time, the late Senator John McCain remarked, "Blankets don't do well against Russian tanks." Trump, when he assumed office, put together a $250 million package that did include some actual weaponry, but he froze (and unfroze) the aid in a failed attempt to blackmail Ukranian President Zelenskyy. This aide failed to deter Putin from invading Ukraine again, in February, with over 100,000 troops in a "special military operation" that was supposed to last a few days. 

Instead of crumbling, Ukranian forces fought back. Hard. The US offered to spirit Zelenskyy away, but he refused to leave Kyiv even though hit squads were roaming the city to take him out. "I need ammunition, not a ride," he is rumored to have said.  

His wish was granted. As of late September, the US alone has provided $16.9 billion in military assistance. About 40 other nations and even some private corporations have also provided money and material. The result has been an ongoing Ukranian counter-offensive in eastern parts of the country that have deeply embarrassed Putin. 

Here's why we need to help.

1) The Russian invasion endangers our own national security. An independent Ukraine is a bulwark against the rise of yet another Soviet Union. Should Russia prevail, it will destabilize Europe,, much like it was during the Cold War. This in turn destabilizes the US and forces us to overextend troops and military hardware to protect both our allies and ourselves. 

2) A successful Russian invasion allows Russia to use oil and natural gas as weapons, which it is already doing. This is why Russia has to be stopped.  

3) Ukraine is independent, sovereign and democratic. Its people have the right to follow their own path. 

4) Russia has engaged in repeated human rights violations, which continue even as I write this story. 

5) Prosperity in the US is directly linked to peace in Europe. 

6) We are not sending soldiers. 

7) Failure in Ukraine signals China that it should take down Taiwan. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Tulsi Gabbard - I’m leaving the Democratic Party

I believe there's a lot of truth in Tulsi's criticism of today's Democratic party. We have morphed from a party that helps the disadvantaged and blue collar workers into an elitist cabal. But I disagree completely with her isolationist foreign policy views. As Russian cruise missiles rain down on Ukranian children and Putin chokes off gas to Europe, our national security has been endangered in a way that we have not seen since 1941. Her foreign policy views are Pollyanish. 

She invites us to join her, but interestingly fails to state where she's going.

I'd prefer to continue voting for the person instead of the party, especially in a state where primaries are closed. 

538's Rundown on Governor, US Senate and Pa.7 Favors Democrats

According to 538, a website that does poll analysis, things are looking pretty good for Democrats. Josh Shapiro is clearly favored to win the Governor's race. His chance of victory is currently projected at 96%. John Fetterman is projected to win the Senate seat, with a 72% likelihood. Oz's chances have improved markedly over the last month, Though Pa-7 is a tossup, Susan Wild has a 51% chance of retaining her seat.  She's gained a lot of ground since July. 

95% of NorCo 911 Calls To Be Covered by Enhanced 911

Several months ago, Northampton County Council voted last week to spend $5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to enhance county's 911 system. When Bethlehem City and the county consolidated 911, Bethlehem was already using an advanced system known as P25. Exec Lamont McClure advised County Council last week that this infusion of public funds will expand this enhanced public safety radio system to 95% of the county. He warned that pockets in Lehigh, Upper Mount Bethel and Williams Tp are still unreachable with P25 because of the mountains. That will cost the county another $5 million, and McClure reported that the county has already applied for a grant. Thiose pockets can still be reached, but only in analog mode.  

P25 was developed in recognition of the struggles in communication by first responders during natural disasters. The radios can operate in both digital and analog modes. They are also capable of sending and receiving text messages. 

"Quite frankly, it's going to make our citizens that much safer," concluded McClure. 

Monday, October 10, 2022

NorCo Council Overrides McClure Vetoes of Pay Study, Gracedale Audit, and Increase of His Own Salary

At their biweekly meeting on Thursday night, Northampton County Council voted to override a trio of vetoes from Executive Lamont McClure concerning a long-awaited pay study, a performance audit at county nursing home Gracedale and an increase of the Executive's salary from $85,000 to $105,000.

Executive Salary Increase. - Northampton County Council adopted an ordinance increasing the Executive's salary, but this wage hike will only take effect at the beginning of the term of the next Executive, which could be McClure or someone else. 

Council member Kevin Lott, a reliable McClure vote, voted to support the veto. He argued that the "optics are horrible" to increase the Executive's salary before a wage study has been conducted. He also asserted that, since McClure has said a raise is unnecessary for his own position, "that holds a lot of water for me." 

Another reliable McClure backer, Council member Tara Zrinski argued that the raise was arbitrary. "It started at $100,000, then it was $120,000, now we're voting on $105,000, and I feel like it does need some kind of formal study." 

But other Council members rejected McClure's backers.

Council member John Goffredo noted that the salary was already studied by looking at the compensation paid to Executives of other counties. Council member John Cusick added that wanted to ensure that "the salary does not deter people who may be interested from running." He also noted that the current $85,000 salary is paid to someone who manages a half billion dollar budget with over 2,000 employees. 

Council President Lori Vargo Heffner said this salary increase has been in consideration for 10 months, and that during that time, she herself did examine the salaries paid elsewhere and that information was available. 

The override passed 6-2. Lott and Zrinski were the sole No votes, and Council member Ron Heckman was absent. 

Northampton County Pay Study. - Kevin Lott, who opposed the pay study, had previously argued that there was no need for an Exec salary increase bc Council would be doing a pay study. He argued that a pay study would be too difficult and that unions get pay studies every time they seek a new contract. "I'm not a big fan of studies," he argued. He nevertheless said he would support a pay study because it would be good for unions.

At this point, President Heffner interjected that the purpose of this proposal is to get bids, not spend any money.  "We can't even get there yet," she observed. 

Cusick noted that the whole point of a pay study is to make sure that the county can be competitive. It will also freeze the salaries of some employees who might be overpaid. "Are we offering enough in wages?" he asked. He noted younger workers really are concerned more about wages than benefits. 

Zrinski, who like Lott is usually a reliable McClure vote, said that she would support a pay study. "I'm an independent woman." 

The override passed 8-0, with Council member Ron Heckman unable to cast a vote because he was absent. 

Gracedale Performance Audit. - The final veto considered was of an ordinance seeking proposals for a performance audit at Gracedale. Executive McClure had argued that this was no longer necessary because Gracedale has markedly improved as a result of changes he proposed and Council adopted. 

McClure allies Lott and Zrinski supported the veto. "We are making moves," noted Lott.  He also suggested that a performance audit was a "voter of no confidence" in the administration of both the Gracedale and McClure administrations. "We made a lot of changes. Let them play out." Zrincki echoed Lott. 

John Groffedo likened Gracedale to a car that's blowin' oil. "We just keep pouring more oil into it." He noted that he would be the first one to say he knows nothing about running a nursing home, and that's why he'd appreciate a fresh and independent perspective. He then voiced his confidence in Administrator Jennifer Stewart King. "She's doing a great job," he acknowledged, but added that the nursing home is in a "challenging position." 

Like Goffredo, Vargo-Heffner said it would help everyone to get an "outside lens" on the home.

The vote to override was 6-2, with Lott and Zrinski siding with the veto and Heckman being absent.  

Friday, October 07, 2022

Scheller's China Problem

Both The Morning Call and Game of Politics covered yesterday's Congressional debate between incumbent Susan Wild and contender Lisa Scheller. It waqs taped at Moravian College for Tony Iannelli's Business Matters. I was unable to get there, bot both accounts make clear that it was marred by the audience, who interfered with attempts by the candidates to answer questions. But I am writing because of Scheller's China problem. 

I have noted several times now that Scheller's company, Silberline, has two factories in China with a third one on the way. I find this appalling. If we've learned anything from Russia''s invasion of Ukraine, it's that we endanger our own national security when we do business with an adversary. Voters can legitimately question whether Scheller will be representing the American citizens of her district or an anti-democratic regime that grows more menacing by the day. 

Scheller dismissed these concerns during the debate by stating she'd place her assets in a blind trust during her stay in Congress.  

A blind trust can be very effective when the trustor (person creating the trust) actively trades in a portfolio of shares in numerous companies. In that case, the trustor will be genuinely unaware of individual transactions concerning specific stocks. 

But in Scheller's case, there never cou be a truily "blind" trust. Silberline is the family business and she has a controlling interest in the company. She will be able to follow what is going on at her company by just following publicly accessible databases. She would still have a very real conflict of interest. I'd question every vote she made on China. 

There is only one way that Scheller can avoid this very real conflict of interest. She'd have to sell her interest in Silberline and put the proceeds into a real blind trust. And that's not gonna' happen. 

Thursday, October 06, 2022

As the NorCo GOP Turns

Most candidates have long realized realized that a county political party has very little impact on an election. Now that patronage jobs have largely been eliminated, local parties have devolved into little more than social clubs. Candidates who win rely on their own organizations and money to get their message out. While local parties do little to help candidates, they still can hurt them. Failed NorCo Exec and GOP Chair candidate Steve Lynch demonstrated that with a Facebook Live on Sunday night. Instead of unleashing his vitriol on Democratic candidates, he attacks fellow Republicans. His soap opera does nothing to help Republican candidates, but it does make party regulars less willing to work for them. 

Lynch has gone after former party chair Lee Snover numerous times, referring to her in some of his videos as a Nazi. He's managed to alienate most of the goon squad who accompanied him when he ran for Exec. He's at odds with current tea party Chair Tom Carroll, who like Lynch is yet another drama queen. He's angry with the host (female, of course) of a conservative Facebook page for blocking him, something he has done routinely to others and without cause. Nazareth police had to be called when Lynch disrupted a Labor Day meeting. And on Sunday night, he attacked local conservative blogger Margie Mandell (yet another woman) because she dared to link to this page on her own personal blog. She must be a super secret Democrat,  he brays. As ridiculous as that is, he and his cult followers lashed out with hundreds of extremely vulgar comments about Mandell, coupled with claims about her personal life that are demonstrably false. 

Let me explain how I know Mandell, whom I've actually met in person once for about five minutes. She is a far-right conservative. Ideologically, I have nothing in common with her. I heard from her and Beverly Hernandez when they were running for GOP County Chair and Vice Chair. I published their letters seeking support.  

Mandell was a Lynch supporter. She helped him in his Exec race. In fact, she manned (or is it womanned?) one of the polls for him on election day. But soon after that race was over, she noticed she was unable to access his Facebook page. He had blocked her. Not for anything she said. She had decided to support Kevin Dellicker instead of Lisa Scheller in the Congressional primary. He is more conservative than Scheller, and unlike her, does not have three factories in China. 

Instead of realizing that people of good will can and do reach different conclusions, Lynch denied her access to his page. She dared confront Lynch after a local county meeting, and the Lynch mob went after her. 

Nazareth resident Benjamin "Bengy" Jacques was at that meeting with Lynch and was present when Lynch exploded at Mandell.  After the meeting and altercation with Mandell, he posted this on Facebook: "Watch your back when you create enemies out of those you once called friends."

Then the intimidation, blasting, obliterating and bullying started. 

"Who we taking out?" asked Wally Oswald. "And who's [sic] car we taking?" Oswald is from Northampton and was part of the Lynch mob. 

Melanie Heilman, a rabid Lynch supporter from Bethlehem Tp, refers to Mandell, not by her name, but as a "b...." "That's the one problem."

Then Jamie M Lichner joins in. He may not even have been at the meeting, but was offering a final solution. "[A]re they little problems or big problems, meaning are the 5.56 problems or .308 problems or,…. Do we have .50BMG to problems, You got problems, I’ll solve it, check out the beat while my DJ revolves it."

"What do you recommend for unicorns?" asks Matthew Walter. Mandell has purple hair, and Walker was joking about it.  

Todd Wallach (from Nazarethwrites, "Be kind to everyone, but be ready to kill anyone."  I'm sure James Mattis would be disgusted to see his quote perverted to terrorize someone.

Most of these myrmidons have since drifted out of the Lynch orbit. They are no longer of use to him.

This incident wounded Lynch, both politically and personally. Last week, he sought his revenge by labeling Mandell as some kind of Democratic operative for linking to my page.  Let me explain how that works. I link to numerous blogs. Whether I agree with them is irrelevant. You should have multiple points of view before reaching a conclusion. Not in the Lynch echo chamber. Only his views may be expressed. 

Mandell has responded to Lynch and his goons with the essay Steve Lynch - The Great Divider. In this story, she notes that she linked to me on her personal blog, not some official county GOP blog. She did so because "I like the idea of allowing American citizens to read every angle of politics and to practice a little thing I value very dearly- our 1st Amendment right to free speech." She removed the link as the Lynch mob went apoplectic over a link to me. 

I do admit I have a particular set of skills. I can really piss people off, often without trying. 

Mandell goes on to explain that she first reached out to me at the suggestion of former party chair Lee Snover, who now is strangely allied with the very same Lynch she knows is nuts. Unlike Lynch , Lee Snover is honest. But she is sneaky that way. 

Mandell also responds to some of the vicious attacks coming from other women. Some of it is actually defamatory. Hence, I refuse to re-publish these sordid lies, although Lynch has.  

So once again, Mandell has been victimized by a crew of cyber-bullies. This is what the local Republican party has become. 

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

State Senate Candidate Mark Pinsley Runs on D--k Joke

 

I'm no expert, but I doubt this will play well among Republicans votes in a Republican-leaning district. I could forgive it if it was at least funny. It might be for middle schoolers.

The Onion Files Amicus Curiae Brief in the US Supreme Court

Blogger's Note: In Novak v. Parma, police arrested an Ohio man for creating a parody Facebook page about Parma's police department. He was accused of disrupting police operations, but was acquitted after a four-day trial.  He sued the police for violating his civil rights, but the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has tossed the case, deciding that the police officers involved had "qualified immunity." The Court added that Novak should have made clear that his Facebook page was a parody. The Court of Final Error will hear Novak's case. The Onion has decided to file an Amicus Curiae (Frenemy of the Court) Brief, and below are some excerpts:

"The Onion is the world’s leading news publication, offering highly acclaimed, universally revered coverage of breaking national, international, and local news events. Rising from its humble beginnings as a print newspaper in 1756, The Onion now enjoys a daily readership of 4.3 trillion and has grown into the single most powerful and influential organization in human history.

"In addition to maintaining a towering standard of excellence to which the rest of the industry aspires, The Onion supports more than 350,000 full- and part-time journalism jobs in its numerous news bureaus and manual labor camps stationed around the world, and members of its editorial board have served with distinction in an advisory capacity for such nations as China, Syria, Somalia, and the former Soviet Union.

"On top of its journalistic pursuits, The Onion also owns and operates the majority of the world’s transoceanic shipping lanes, stands on the nation’s leading edge on matters of deforestation and strip mining, and proudly conducts tests on millions of animals daily."

**********

"Tu stultus es. You are dumb. These three Latin words have been The Onion’s motto and guiding light since it was founded in 1988 as America’s Finest News Source, leading its writers toward the paper’s singular purpose of pointing out that its readers are deeply gullible people.

"The Onion’s motto is central to this brief for two important reasons. First, it’s Latin. And The Onion knows that the federal judiciary is staffed entirely by total Latin dorks: They quote Catullus in the original Latin in chambers. They sweetly whisper “stare decisis” into their spouses’ ears. They mutter “cui bono” under their breath while picking up after their neighbors’ dogs. So The Onion knew that, unless it pointed to a suitably Latin rallying cry, its brief would be operating far outside the Court’s vernacular."

Josh Siegel Would Be a Disaster in Pa.-22 State House Race

Democrat Joshua Siegel is running against Republican Bob Smith in the State House race for Pa.-22. It is divided between some Allentown and Salisbury Tp wards. This is a no-brainer. Smith is eminently qualified and cares about people while Siegel cares only about himself. 

Smith spent years battling the degradation of the once proud Allentown school system as a school board member. That's a thankless, unpaid job. No matter what you do as a school director, you make enemies. What really sets him apart for me is what he did as a counselor at Mount Trexler Manor. In 2010, he was pulled from the roof by a suicide jumper. He went down with her, breaking her fall as she landed on yop of him. She escaped with minor injuries. Bob was far less lucky. He had several serious injuries and we're lucky he's still with us.

Smith's bravery is on a par with first responders like firefighters and police officers.  He demonstrated pretty clearly that he cares about people. According to his Facebook page, he's running to ensure safe communities, quality education, an affordable cost of living, property tax reform and lower energy costs. 

In contrast, New Jersey transplant Siegel is running as a matter of political expedience.  He could never be re-elected to Allentown City Council after alienating his fellow Council members, first responders and the public he supposedly serves. 

Instead of promoting a safer Allentown community, he voted No to grants for the Allentown police department. He voted No to filling the depleted ranks of police officers. He participated in marches with felons like Hashann Batts, where "F--- the Police1" was the battlecry. He doxed then Mayor Ray O'Connell by handing out the Mayor's phone number to angry protestors. O'Connell thereafter received threats and calls for days. 

Wait, there's more. He and fellow opportunist Mark Pinsley promoted foisting two new taxes on the already impoverished citizens of Allentown. First, he wanted to enact a 1% increase in Lehigh County's sales tax. Any economist could tell you that a sales tax is a regressive tax that is disproportionately felt by those with limited means. 

In addition to this sales tax hike, he and Pinsley wanted to enact a county-wide income tax to create districts that promote the arts. Yes, people who are already struggling in Allentown to put food on the table would have to work harder to help fund the artsy-fartsys.  

This is no race between a Democrat and a Republican. This is a choice between good and evil. As Plutarch notes in his Parallel Lives on Cicero, "No beast is more savage than man possessed with power answerable to his rage." If Siegel had any kind of power, you can rest assured it will be abused. 

This is a heavily Democratic district in Allentown's urban core. But the Hispanic population there might be willing to vote R. For Allentown's sake, I hope so. 

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

NorCo Exec McClure Proposes Lean, Mean Budget for 2023

It's a lean budget. It's a mean budget. Taxpayers will love it. Employees will hate it. Northampton County Exec Lamont McClure introduced his 2023 spending plan yesterday during a news conference attended by Controller Bucky Szulborski and Council members Lori Vargo Heffner, John Goffredo and Tom Giovanni. He proposes spending $544.8 million.

Taxpayers should love this. His budget is actually 4.5% smaller than it was in 2022. He has reduced debt service payments by $7.1 million. He wants to upgrade the county's 911 system. Most importantly, he holds the line on real estate taxes at 10.8 mills. This means a home assessed at $75,000 will receive a tax bill next year for $810. Two years ago, that same home would have seen a $885 tax bill. The budget is also balanced.

Open space enthusiasts should also appreciate this budget. For the fifth year in his five years as Exec, McClure plans to fully fund all open space programs, from farmland preservation to an ambitious parks acquisition program. Northampton County is already on track this year to preserve a record number of farms. The County has little authority to stop what McClure likes to call "warehouse proliferation," along with the concomitant truck traffic. But when developable land is available, McClure has been purchasing it. 

Although a half billion dollar budget is a lot of money, only 18% comes from real estate taxes. Over half comes from the state and federal government as pass-through money to fund various county human services programs. And 20% comes from the county's fund balance, which is basically the equivalent of a family's checking account.

Gracedale, the county-owned nursing home, requires no county contribution. It has a separate budget of $103 million. 

McClure has long maintained that the county's fund balance, which usually hovers at around $60 million, is far too high. When he was on County Council, he annually tried to reduce it and even wrote an op-ed complaining about it. As Executive, he has been working to reduce it. He has set aside $17 million as a stabilization fund, which you could call a "rainy day" fund. This includes two months of expenses. He has also set aside about $6 million against a possible resurgence of COVID-19. 

While taxpayers and open space enthusiasts should be pleased, career service (nonunion) employees will be unhappy to learn that McClure is proposing only a 3% cost of living adjustment for them. Last year, they received a step, which is about 5%. Administration officials explained that the raises were kept at 3% to maintain parity with the county's union workforce. 

The only county career service employees getting more are the three people working for County Council. Council has already proposed they get collectively a six per cent payhike. Council can remedy this by decreasing this payhike or increasing the COLA of remaining workers, but they would need to find a place to make a cut in a budget that is 4.5% leaner than last year. 

McClure noted that the County spends more on personnel than anything else. In addition  to wages, this includes health care benefits, a defined benefit pension plan that is nonexistent in the private sector, paid vacation, personal time and sick time. He noted that the cost of the workforce has grown from $141.6 million two years ago to $160.3 million today. It has risen nearly 14% when total compensation is considered. 

Now that the budget has been proposed by the Executive, it is up to County Council. President Lori Vargo Heffner said hearings will start Wednesday. There are usually five hearings, followed by possible amendments. They must act by December 16 or McClure's budget is automatically adopted. 

Council can reject the budget. But under our Home Rule Charter, that also means McClure's budget will be automatically adopted. 

What Council can do is amend the budget although they are prohibited from interfering with the Executive's revenue projections. If they want to fund something, they will need to cut somewhere else. 

Updated 9:00 am; You can see proposed budget details here

Monday, October 03, 2022

Voters Have Two Poor Choices to Succeed Browne in Pa. Senate 16

 


Above you can see the map for the newly configured Pa. Senate District 16, which is currently represented by Senator Pat Browne. He won't be in office much longer. He was ousted by fellow Republicans in the primary. I suspect his alcohol abuse played a huge role in his defeat. His role in the Allentown State Hospital fiasco (in which the state spent $15.5 million to sell for $5.5 million) probably had some people scratching their heads. But I think the main reason he lost is because voters were simply tired of him. He's held public office since 2005. He clearly in out of touch with his district, and perhaps reality itself. It's time to give someone else a chance. But of all the people in that district, you'd think there'd be better alternatives than Republican Jarrett Coleman and Democrat Marc Pinsley. They both represent the extremes of their party. No matter who wins this race, the constituents are going to suffer. 

In the Democratic corner, Mark Pinsley is perhaps the most blatant opportunist I've seen since I began blogging. No sooner was he elected South Whitehall Tp Commissioner than he announced he was running against Pat Browne. Undaunted after losing that race, he took on Lehigh County Controller Glenn Eckhart in the next election cycle and knocked him off.  As Controller, he proposed both an increase in sales tax in Lehigh County as well as an income tax that would hurt low-income families that work multiple jobs just to put food on the table.  He called for UN observers in the 2020 presidential election, He also revealed his true feelings about Allentown and Bethlehem when he objected to them being combined as part of redistricting. "We don't need another ghetto," he said. Well, we don't need Pinsley. 

In the Republican corner sits airline pilot Jarrett Coleman. I saw him at Dr. Oz's fundraiser, He made no effort to socialize with anyone. He has no fear of COVID, but must be worried that he could be infected with a liberal or centrist idea. He was recently elected to the Parkland School Board on an anti-mask and anti-CRT platform. But just like Pinsley, he has used that position to springboard himself into the state senate race. He is backed heavily by the LV Tea Party, which is trying to rid the party of what it calls RINOs to replace them with "true conservatives."

Both of these are lousy choices. 

My Thanks to Fellow Democratic Operative Steve Lynch

On Friday, I received a very nice letter from my local Democratic committee persons, urging me to vote for the Democratic candidates on the ballot and explaining why. They put some time and effort into researching the candidates on both sides. I really appreciated their arguments, although I intend to vote for two (Oz and Merhottein) Republicans in the five races in which I can vote. I actually sent a letter thanking these people for reaching out like they did. That is what a committeeperson should be doing, especially at this time of the year. Unfortunately for Republicans in Northampton County, their committee people are at each others' throats. Instead of promoting their candidates, they are tearing each other apart. The person behind all this acrimony, of course, is none other than drama queen Steve Lynch. 

In a Facebook Live last night, he referred to me as a "complete loser," absolute lowlife,' and "scum bag." Hey' that's a step up from "subhuman," which he called me when he wanted to duel me. But that was just the set up. He really wanted to rip into another Republican (a female, of course), and used me as a basis to vilify. There was no logic to his argument, just hate. His cult followers blindly followed suit and ripped into her with extremely vulgar and personal attacks. Just a few months before, they were hinting at gunning her down when she dared ask Steve why he had blocked her on Facebook. 

I'll have more details tomorrow, but have a confession. Steve is actually one of my assets. He is a secret Democratic operative and has been doing an outstanding job of making sure Northampton County Republicans are distracted by each other as opposed to our team.  This is after he managed to assure Lamont McClure a second term as Exec. 

Thanks, Steve. Your work is probably going to help us in races we might otherwise lose. I'll put you in for a medal at our next secret meeting at Columcille Megalith Park. Sorry, we won't be drinking any  blood or adrenochrome. We're vegans, you know.