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There is More Than One Place We Can Petition Our Government

PoliceCarOn Covid-19 business closures this may be the agency to direct our appeal


America has a problem. More particularly, Pennsylvania has a problem far beyond Covid-19 itself. This is a problem it created. This is a problem it will not confront or assume responsibility for causing.

A dictatorial governor along with an unqualified Secretary of Health, have, in monkey see-monkey do fashion, followed the fear driven overreactions of other mostly blue states. As evidence mounts that the virus is not nearly as lethal as some initial projections suggested and concerns over hospital capacity have evaporated, they remain locked in and Pennsylvanians remain locked down.

This has caused and is continuing to cause a cascade of collateral damage that itself is harming health and sometimes ending with its own deadly outcomes.

A solidly Republican legislature has produced bills to lessen the top down oppression, but a governor-king, who has avoided consultation with the people’s representatives, has thrown up his veto wall. The legislature lacks the numbers to override.

So where are citizens to turn? The first amendment guarantees the right of the people “to petition the government for a redress of grievances”. We can contact our legislators, as we should, but it’s apparent that an intransigent governor will blunt their efforts.

Then it dawned on me that there is more than one place we can petition our government, and local police departments are most acutely seeing the very dark and disturbing side of state policy. They, more than any other, know the reality of the collateral damage that only can and will be alleviated when businesses reopen and workers return to work. They have discretion in enforcement. If only they could be persuaded to commit to discretionary nonenforcement against businesses that reopen in defiance of state orders, this could be a way around the destruction our governor refuses to face.

This prompted the following appeal to my local police department. It hit their email inbox yesterday. I also posted to the Facebook accounts of the York County District Attorney and the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association. On Saturday afternoon, I called in to attorney Marc Scaringi’s radio show and made my appeal. I’ve yet to hear a response from anyone, but if these agencies start hearing similar appeals in sufficient quantity, it may be our best chance to obtain relief. I understand state police may have their hands tied, but local police should have more freedom. Then if we can unleash a response from our local police, even state police may be emboldened.

Here is the letter I sent. Feel free to copy, or better write your own, but please consider doing it! Thank you!

Steven Lutz, Chief of Police
Newberry Township Police Department
York County, Pennsylvania
Dear Chief Lutz,
I urgently implore you to take a very bold and very unusual position for any police department at any time. I’m requesting that you immediately and publicly commit to discretionary nonenforcement of Governor Tom Wolf’s shutdown order against any business that chooses to reopen its operations as they see fit, within the area of your jurisdiction.
The reason for this is consideration of overall public health and safety. People need to work. People need to be secure in their property. Some are doing ok, while others are losing everything they’ve worked for. Levels of stress are rising, with some individuals reaching their breaking point. We must balance combatting what we are learning is a much overrated virus against the very real and dangerous collateral damage state policy is causing.
I’m sure you are all too aware of spiking suicide, drug/alcohol abuse/relapse including overdoses, anxiety and depression, as well as domestic violence that can involve spousal or child abuse, the effects of which can last a lifetime. Divorce is rising, also imposing damage that will linger. Mental health is rapidly deteriorating. If this goes on much longer, I fear citizens will start turning on each other. Where is the state’s concern in this very dark side of our current situation? We’re facing a self created crisis far beyond just a virus.
I’m of the opinion that our state has greatly overreacted in its response. Fears of exceeding hospital capacity have long passed to the point where empty hospitals and delayed medical procedures has become its own problem that will sometimes contribute to death. We’re learning that other than very old people or those with well known underlying conditions, most people can handle exposure with very little problem, and benefit everyone by building herd immunity that can most benefit the vulnerable as they hunker out of the way. The media hyped fear does not fade easily as we learn things are not as bad as some initial projections.
I understand defiance of authority is not to be taken lightly, but we look to our police to simultaneously protect our safety and defend our liberty. Americans are uniquely used to trusting each other to govern themselves. It is imperative we do not create problems greater than the ones we are trying to solve. It’s time for the irrational response to end. It’s time to get back to normal and end the madness. I request again you stand down in support of the freedom and sanity of the citizens you serve.
Thank you



Why Lockdowns, Social Distancing and Other Attempts to Flatten the COVID-19 Curve is Likely a Very Big (and Costly) Irrational Fear Driven Mistake

It certainly did not take long for Americans go get whipped up into a frenzy of fear as we saw this novel virus build in China then head our way. People were dying. It was going to be bad, maybe real bad. In short order the fear sent us running into the protective arms of governments, federal and state, promoting security if only we would fall in line and obediently do whatever they told us we must. Surely we would not be misled. This was a crisis and a serious one at that.

No extreme was too extreme. No dictate was to be questioned. Just do it for your own good because those making the decisions know what is best for you. So we complied. We trusted as our elected officials closed down non life sustaining businesses that they defined as such.  We were told we must social distance, never getting closer that 6 feet from another human not a resident of our house. Then came lockdown. Then stay at home. Then school closings. Now we should, sometimes must, wear masks. Playgrounds are strangely surrounded by caution tape. The official screws kept tightening, first suggestions, then orders, then certain acts of freedom would be treated as crimes.

Even voluntary measures have gotten weird, as grocery stores have started limiting the number allowed inside at any one time and the isles have become one way with no passing allowed.

So here we are in the middle of April with our economy trashed. We’re enduring an increase in suicide, domestic violence, divorce, and drug/alcohol use/relapse for which no one is taking responsibility. Medical and dental procedures that are not emergency are being delayed without regard to possible negative consequences. Our mood can be described as dour. We’ve no timeline for restoring normalcy but we know we must sometime, when the authorities tell us we can, of course.

From the start I sensed something was terribly wrong. At first I sort of bought in to flattening the curve and mitigation from the aspect of preventing hospital systems from being overrun in our urban areas, but blanket shutdowns and extreme avoidance everywhere made no sense because the virus wasn’t going anywhere, and we couldn’t hide forever. I remember commenting in social media exchanges that exposure had benefits because it would confer immunity, or that sooner or later we would have to emerge from isolation in its presence, or that we really can’t stop the virus but only manage its inevitable progression. Responses were typically of the sort that someone might get it and then take it to a vulnerable person who might die and how would that make you feel?

Compliance has taken hold, and taken blindly that can be dangerous. People complain that others are not staying home enough. They complain if too many people at the grocery store are not wearing masks and call them irresponsible. They will be obedient in their distancing and may say something to another they think is not. They will not go out and drive around just to go out and drive around and cannot understand those who do. Some are even asking for a tighter lockdown and stricter rules. Among some it’s not PC to criticize or question authoritative policy. This is what I consider a herd mentality of submissive blind obedience to what may in fact be taking us in an entirely wrong direction.

Then there is herd immunity, too little understood, but an essential process in ending a pandemic. I understood the  basic concept but dug for details and a better understanding of how it actually works.  From what I found, once a person is exposed to an infectious agent it confers on them immunity so it cannot infect them again. Once this exceeds about 60% of individuals in the population, everyone in the population begins to benefit. As the process progresses, more and more often the virus (in this case) infects someone who has only immune people around them. The virus is trapped and ends right there. Transmission slows down without distancing, in fact as a result of the process of mixing. It’s just hard for most people to get their head around the concept that promotion of transmission can be beneficial. When herd immunity reaches 80% and above in a rather short period of time the virus will run into enough of these roadblocks that it will snuff itself out and the pandemic ends.

Fortunately, so perhaps people will believe this, I found an article at World Net Daily titled “Epidemiologist: Coronavirus Could Be ‘exterminated’ if Lockdowns Lifted“. In it PhD epidemiologist of 35 years, Knut Wittkowski, lays it all out, validating my thinking and more. From his perspective we’re doing everything wrong and I agree. He does not deny that “flattening the curve” works in the short term but only prolongs, rather than concludes a pandemic, by delaying the always necessary herd immunity.

He does state the need to sequester those most at risk first and seal off nursing homes. Fortunately, in the case of the novel coronavirus that is easy by how heavily its most serious presentation skews to easily identifiable individuals within the population. According to the CDC, as of April 13, over 90% of all US deaths have been those over 55 years old. Since about 20% of all cases will require hospitalization, if isolating that group along with other known risk factors like diabetes and high blood pressure could reduce hospitalizations to under 5%, that might protect hospital capacity as well as social distancing and lockdowns. Wouldn’t covering lost wages of those sequestered have been a tiny fraction thrown at the big wreck we created?

Subsequent to this, another article featuring Wittkowski has appeared at the American Institute for Economic Research. They claim that hundreds of epidemiologists and other medical research professionals were never consulted in the frenzied formation of pandemic policy.

In fact not only does Wittkowski not recommend social distancing, he encourages spread of the virus by not closing schools, as children must be allowed to mingle so as to help achieve herd immunity more quickly. It seems rather cruel to those sequestered to do this any other way, as they can never feel safe reentering from isolation so long as there remain many unexposed people ready to serve as vectors to quickly spread new waves of infection. Only once the virus runs through the low risk population and dies out can the high risk folks safely return, but Wittkowski claims this can happen in weeks if we let it go. On this, although he does not mention it, I assume Wittkowski would also reject business closures and masks. Exposure does, after all have benefits, and the pandemic cannot end until herd immunity has been achieved.

By closing schools especially and becoming obsessed with preventing each new infection via mitigation not only are we prolonging the pandemic, especially problematic for those at high risk, we’re setting ourselves up for waves of recurrent infections and lockdowns, some are now suggesting may cycle over the next 18 months. Does this sound better than putting this behind us quickly? The psychological exasperation alone should frighten us as much as the virus.

But what about the promise of control after mitigation by “identify, isolate, and contact trace” we’ve heard so much about? Wittkowski makes the point that contact tracing HIV is a challenge and dismisses it as foolish.

There’s only one way that mitigation via economy crushing lockdowns and social distancing would be the better choice. If there was an effective vaccine on our doorstep, ready to go within weeks, and herd immunity could be gotten that way it would make sense, but that luxury is not ours at this time. How could the current state of affairs extend that long?

We need to accept that there is no path where all deaths from this new virus can be eliminated. Had we taken the path Wittkowski suggested, our economy would not be in shambles, along with the aforementioned collateral damage. Our civil liberties would still be intact, and following the much shorter period needed to get through this there may well even be fewer deaths.

This is the relaxed path Sweden has taken and controversy has swirled around it. There are very few restrictions. Schools are open and people still gather in public. It has not always been an easy ride, and they’ve considered stricter quarantines, but just today I looked at their daily new cases on the Johns Hopkins dashboard. and all of a sudden the numbers appear to be plummeting. If this continues, they may be getting close to the end. The proof will come over time by seeing no new waves as we are likely to experience here. They never trashed their economy or gave up civil liberties. Come next fall/winter they may be the most normal and safe from Covid-19 place on the planet. Then we’ll wish we had followed their path, the one favored by academic epidemiologists like Knut Wittkowski.





Don’t Let PA House’s Ghost Vote Scandal Fade with 2015


 Only Vigilance will Bring Results


A little over a week ago, as the GOP dominated Pennsylvania House was wrangling over what to do to achieve an almost six month late budget freshman Democratic Governor Tom Wolf might finally sign, a move was made to revert to a budget approved by the also GOP controlled Senate, known as the “framework”.  That general fund budget included $30.8 billion in spending, along with marginal pension and liquor reform, but not the tax increases necessary to pay for it.

Nonetheless, having given up on a move to send the Governor a stopgap emergency budget that he promised to veto, an attempt was made in the House to set the Senate bill up for a vote.  When it was approved by just one vote 100-99, someone told Rep Daryl Metcalfe that one of the yes votes was cast by Rep Peter Daley, who was not on the floor.

On a subsequent motion to reconsider, Rep Metcalfe, a Republican, observed Democratic Rep Mike Schlossberg pushing the voting button of Rep Daley.  This prompted Metcalfe to inform the Speaker, who ordered all members to be in their seats for further votes.

Very quickly the word got out, with tweets claiming “ghost voting” and suggesting that for Schlossberg it’s one man, two votes.  Several media outlets reported on the ghost voting.  At no point, on social media, did anyone defend what most saw as shocking, immoral, dishonest behavior.

As it turns out, a total of three votes were cast for members not present in the hall of the house as the rules require.  In the case of Democratic Rep Leslie Acosta, she was reported to be in Nicaragua.  Republican Rep John Maher claimed he was just steps away due to business in his capitol office, and had his vote cast for him as a courtesy.

The following day I was in the capitol.  Being an occasional visitor, in talking to several trusted friends who are there much more often, in a short period of time I heard some very revealing stories about ghost voting.

First, they all agreed that ghost voting is not a rare event but common practice!  It’s one of those things where, in spite of a rule against it, everyone looks the other way.

Beyond this revelation that would shock the average citizen, who would likely question the practice as a serious breach of the public trust, I was told of a practice where legislators sometimes rig their voting devices with pennies to cast a vote for them when off the floor.  Then sometimes they forget to remove them!  If this doesn’t sound like high school, it gets worse!

On the Senate side the rules allow voting for an absent member, but only when on either capitol leave for business within a 10 mile radius of the capitol, or legislative leave, for business within their home district.  I imagine an example of capitol leave may include appearing at Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico’s office to be charged with a crime.

Even so, when Senate votes are cast for a member on appropriate leave, they are required to be cast by the floor leader of that member’s party and no one else.  Yet as I was told, sometimes the leave type is changed for a member prior to a vote to make it legit.  One known story that goes around is of a Senate member tweeting pictures of himself from an Atlantic Ocean beach while on legislative leave, and yes, having a vote cast on his behalf!

Rep Metcalfe has called for a House Ethics Committee investigation.  He also wants to see house rules changed so members could move to invalidate votes where rules have been broken.  While this makes sense, the Senate likewise should take a look at its rules regarding voting.

If there’s good news in all of this, it’s that someone got caught in the act where the outcome of a vote was possibly affected, and the practice has become publicly known.  It presents a real opportunity to clamp down on behavior that no one has tried to defend, making reform in short order a likely possibility, if (and here’s the if) the issue is not allowed to fade from the public discourse.

Make no mistake.  Everyone wants this incident to be behind them.  A representative of House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody’s office told me today that House leaders from both parties have discussed the ghost voting issue over the past week.  Being the type of thing that can quickly fade from people’s minds, silence can quickly open the door to do nothing, allowing continuance in a comfort zone of corruption.  Constant reminders from an aware public, on the other hand, will likely result in quick action.  On this one, ordinary citizens hold an unusual amount of power.



On Being an Independent Citizen Lobbyist – Lessons and Advice



Before retirement I was politically interested but not so much politically involved with the exception of the healthcare issue, for which I had a fascination going back to Hillarycare days of 1993-94, when I pounded out letters to members of congress and various organizations on a manual typewriter and sent them snail mail, arguing for medical savings accounts and less third party payment.

Of course, that issue died down for a long time.  By coincidence, I retired at the end of 2008, between President Obama’s election and his inauguration.  My old interest was quickly rekindled as I followed the events leading up to what we today call Obamacare in March 2010.  I began writing on the subject again, offering innovative solutions that since have evolved, so that even I don’t support many of those early ideas.

The push to citizen lobbyist came in early 2011 when I showed state Senator Folmer a piece I had written at a class on the Constitution he was teaching.  Despite trying unsuccessfully to get the ear of anyone, for which I thought were some good ideas, Senator Folmer demanded that I come to his office to meet with him!  Wow!

I made the appointment.  Then I felt the pressure.  I dug and dug more and printed what I found.  I showed up at his office with the two pages that had sparked his interest plus 50 pages of “supporting documentation”.  We met for almost two hours.  He and his staff were impressed with my preparation and I was on my way.  When I expressed that I wanted to just get some things done so I could go back to being retired, they suggested that my involvement would linger and move to other issues.  They were right.

Without any formal training I threw myself into the game.  Now three years later, I know almost every nook and cranny of the Pennsylvania state capitol.  Many legislators and even more staff know me and generally they respect that I bring issues of substance, with well reasoned arguments, for or against topics on which they may agree or not.  I shop ideas, and that’s important.

When I disagree I always try to have alternate suggestions.  Learning to disagree amicably is part of the way it works.  Getting personal, playing gotcha, or attempting to embarrass to their face or behing their back, is picked up quickly and results in less access and opportunity to persuade.  From my experience I can now offer a few tips.

First and foremost do your homework.  Know as much about all sides of an issue as possible.  This is how to establish credibility.  Know which representatives are involved with which issues, to which committees bills have been assigned, and who sits on and chairs those committees.

Consider building email lists to feed ideas on legislation simultaneously to all members of a committee  so they may talk amongst themselves.  I’ve done this locally with my school board.

Ask for personal meetings with legislators and staff, and when offered, be respectful of their time and thank them profusely.  Play to their egos.

Understand politics attracts certain types of individuals.  One occasion I’ll never forget is when visiting with a staff person I had gotten to like, the phone rang.  Since this was a mostly personal visit, I told the staffer to take the call, that I could wait.  While waiting he said twice to the person on the other end of the conversation, “No. You don’t understand.  Most of the people in here have a pathological need to be loved.”  That sunk in deep.  I realized how important it is to exploit that fundamental truth!  Always keep that one in mind.

Having self written printed material is good.  I like to hand deliver copies of articles I’ve published to my blog or Watchdog Wire.  It’s important for them to know what you’re giving them is also public and that you may write about them…that need to be loved.  Engage them on Twitter and Facebook.  Here again you are not behind closed doors.

Make phone calls to their offices.  Send them emails.  Stay in touch.  Offer links to stories that may help them better understand issues.  Just be aware that no matter the form of communication, it always carries most weight coming from a constituent.  Knowing this, it sometimes may be most beneficial motivating a legislator’s constituents to work for you.  Business groups or grassroots organizations in their district can be good targets.  Explain the importance of their effort and how they can uniquely make a difference, especially when their representative holds the keys to moving a bill along.

On the constituent issue, when contacting those who don’t directly represent you by your vote, be upfront.  Say you are not a constituent but remind them that in their capacity as chairperson or member of a committee where legislation resides they do represent you and all citizens of the state.

It can often be very difficult to get private sit-down meetings with representatives outside your own district, but there is one important trick that often works.  Attend committee meetings.  Usually in the time just before the meeting commences, and again after it adjourns, opportunity presents itself to go one on one.  Introduce yourself.  Share a handout.  At one meeting I attended the chair gave me permission to place a handout at each legislator’s seat prior to the start of the meeting.  It is sometimes these introductions that can lead to a willingness to meet more formally.  Never hesitate to ask.  The most they can say is no.

Another important step is attending town hall meetings.  If you have a good relationship with your elected representative and visit or contact often (and you should), don’t try to monopolize too much time.  Learn what’s on the mind of your neighbors, unless its something you want to make the representative address publically.  Don’t hesitate to attend town hall meetings outside your district, but admit your status and defer to constituents in the Q & A.  Showing this respect will bring you yours.

Don’t try to nail elected officials to the wall in embarrassing ways with trick or trap questions.  Rather than condemn them outright for taking tens of thousands from a union other special moneyed interest, ask them to tell you, and everyone, how they will avoid being influenced by the expectations attached to the donation, in keeping first the needs of those they represent.  That they know you’re aware who their donors are and that you’re watching is what counts.

One last thing is don’t despair.  Surprises are possible.  One idea I shopped, based on exciting legislation in the New Jersey Senate to reward physicians who volunteer time in free clinics, was introduced in the Pennsylvania House by a representative outside my district.  This truly proves the power of one.

While these tips have been centered on my experience at the state level and I have the advantage of living near the Pennsylvania Capitol, the same basics apply at the federal level on down to local counties, boroughs, townships and school districts.  Pick issues of interest, knowing no one can be on top of everything.  Throw yourself into it, and have fun too!