I was an exchange student in West Germany in the early 1980s during the Cold War, when that nation was divided into a free western half and the oppressed socialist eastern half.
A group of five of us (two Americans and three Germans) visited Checkpoint Charlie, the famed crossing point between West and East Berlin.
My German friends tried to talk me into taking a trip into East Berlin stopping at Freidrich Strasse, and then return to West Berlin.
We already had a trip planned the next day for East Berlin. But, my German “brothers” would not be deterred, and we were soon on the U-Bahn.
I snapped a picture of a sign that said “Friedrich Strasse” as proof of our adventure. As soon as I took the photo, a fellow in uniform snatched the camera from my hands and called the Volkspolizei (Peoples Police).
I soon found myself detained by three Volkspolizei, firing questions at me. Things went from bad to worse when he asked for my passport.
Thankfully, my German host brother – Jorg – was quick on his feet and managed to de-escalate the situation with the compromise that I would destroy the film.
It was no small feeling of joy when we returned to the safety of West Berlin.
As planned, we visited East Berlin the next day, ending up in a tavern to grab something to eat.
Sitting near us was a young man who found out I was American, so he stood up and started yelling, “America is the greatest county in the world and Russia is the worst.”
He had just been released from years of hard labor for trying to escape into West Berlin. He hated the lack of freedom, the oppressive rules and that neighbors spied on each other to earn favors from the socialist regime.
All infractions, real or otherwise, were reported to the East German secret police (STASI), who dutifully investigated each report and compiled copious records on every citizen.
Oftentimes, it was abused for revenge to get back at neighbors that one did not like.
The leaders relished this…it was an effective tool to control the people.
I returned to West Germany seven years later as U.S. Army Lieutenant Mastriano, a platoon leader with the celebrated 2nd U.S. Cavalry Regiment, serving along the borders of East Germany and Czechoslovakia. It was an honor to defend our rights, freedoms and way of life from a corrupt and oppressive system, built around using its citizens to spy on each other.
Fast forward 39 years, and we are in one of the most treacherous periods in the history of our state and nation where a dangerous virus escaped from a Chinese lab, spreading its poisonous tentacles around the globe.
The reactions from nations and states varied.
Some ordered sweeping shut downs and implemented draconian measures, while others let the virus run its course with little disruption to daily lives.
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Wolf handed much of his power over to his Secretary of Health, and vanished from public life aside from an occasional announcement.
These decisions from his office continued to negatively intensify in both reach and impact in March and April.
The sweeping edicts coming from the administration were often contradictory, confusing and chaotic.
Follow up questions from reporters and the General Assembly only resulted in further confusion. In one bout, the Governor was asked about unemployment: what recourse was available to an employer if an employee who had been furloughed refused to return to work, and instead opted to continue collecting unemployment compensation benefits?
Could benefits be revoked?
This is an important question, as employers are increasingly reporting this occurrence.
Governor Wolf flatly stated that benefits could not be revoked, and said “there’s one really simple thing you can do as a business owner and that is raise the compensation of your employees.”
According to federal and state officials, the Governor is wrong; yet this is indicative of a public official misspeaking: if Pennsylvanians actually believe the Governor and follow his ill-informed guidance, they are putting themselves as significant legal risk.
The Commonwealth could be jeopardizing critical federal support, and certain employers participating in a federal program could be financially devastated. Did the Governor just encourage his citizens to commit fraud?
This is just one of many examples of the confusion and even misinformation that regularly comes out of Harrisburg during the crisis.
The week of April 20, it was uncovered that the Secretary of Health deceived the people of Pennsylvania with erroneous numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths.
Twelve county commissioners went public to provide evidence that the Secretary of Health has significantly inflated the number of statewide deaths, in addition to artificially raising the number of positive cases across the state, but padding the numbers with subjective “possible” cases.
Having their hands caught in the cookie jar, the Secretary walked it back by saying there was a technical issue, and 201 deaths were removed from the list of COVID-19 deaths.
Yet, the Secretary insists upon adding “possible” cases in the positive reports of COVID-19, which will be used to drag out the Governor’s emergency order and keep you from resuming your life sooner than later.
The padding of numbers is a form of fraud perpetuated on the people of our state.
It is these numbers – the “possible” cases – that will be used to unnecessarily justify keeping the emergency order in place, potentially into the summer, such as fellow Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsome, who just moved the goalpost for Californians to mid-June.
But it gets better.
The Secretary of Health decided that it was a good idea to create a “snitch-line” for citizens to report anyone they believe is violating any of the decrees issued by Harrisburg.
With record-high unemployment, a spike in deaths in elder care facilities (which the Secretary of Health has forgotten about, in terms of oversight), an Unemployment Compensation office that is failing its people by the millions, small businesses shattered, people going without food, domestic violence and child abuse spiking astronomically, and the terrible rise of suicide – Pennsylvania citizens have lost hope.
The Secretary of Health invested precious time to facilitate self-appointed do-gooders in ratting out their neighbors in the midst of this crisis.
Instead of working hard for the people, we have leaders seemingly bent on controlling us rather than serving us.
Secretary Levine — remove that snitch line and focus on your job! Stop trampling on our rights and take measures to help our elderly, which accounts for 65% of the deaths from COVID-19… assuming that you are not also conflating those numbers.
This is America Secretary Levine, not East Germany, now do your job and stop dividing the people.
Senator Mastriano represents the 33rd District in the Pennsylvania Senate. The District includes Adams County and parts of Franklin, Cumberland and York counties.