Malvern’s Favorite Uncle

You know that great neighbor or uncle you had? The one who was always there when you needed him and never took credit?

Towns have people like that, too. Well, not all towns, but one that I know quite well:  Malvern Borough, PA. 

Established in 1889, Malvern is a small town of about 1.3 square miles and around 3,000 people lying at the end of Philadelphia’s Main Line. It is a blue collar (fast becoming white collar) coda to the train line that first carried Philadelphia’s railroad barons to their summer estates and currently carries their progeny to and from careers in the city.

In 1974, nearly a hundred years later, the IRA started bombing London, the top speed limit across the US was lowered to 55 mph to save gas, and Nixon resigned due to the Watergate scandal. 

Not a great year. 

Except for Malvern. For Malvern it was a great year, because on February 8th of that year Ira Dutter, Jr came to town via St. Petersburg, FL, Wilkes Barre, PA, and Paoli, PA and started working in Malvern’s Public Works Department.  

The Public Works Department of any town maintains sewers, fixes potholes, clears streets of winter snow (no matter how treacherous the weather), maintains parks, and takes care of sudden emergencies. In other words, they keep the town running. 

“Junior”, as Ira Dutter is called by his coworkers, quickly became Malvern’s Public Works Supervisor and held the job for 50 years – through 7 mayors, 5 managers, and who knows how many elected officials. Junior and his  Public Works crew has done it all so smoothly most Malvernites don’t even notice. 

Oh, and in his spare time he became a volunteer firefighter for the Malvern Fire Department, then Chief Engineer, then Chief. Later he became Chief Engineer of Paoli’s Fire Department, then their Chief for 20 years. 

As with your favorite uncle, he is so averse to accolades he wouldn’t be interviewed about his Malvern career for this column. There was even some concern that he may not attend the retirement dinner Malvern threw in his honor (over 100 people attended and lauded and applauded him). 

So I had to go around him and talk to people who worked with him all those years: borough managers and road crew members who know him best. Here’s what they said (anonymously, of course, because, well… accolades):

“Always made sure the job got done…” (Borough Manager)

“A perfectionist. Things had to be exactly right. If you built something and there were two bolts left over that was a problem.” (Road Crew)

“He wowed neighboring towns with his work.”  (Borough Manager)

“Had confidence in you… he showed me the 3-wheel street sweeper, had me hop in with him and drive it about 100 yards – I knew nothing about it. Then he got out and said ‘I’ll see you’ and walked off!” (Road Crew)

“Every time I asked him to do something, his response was always ‘no problem’. Every time!” (Borough Manager)

“Always here…checking street lights, for example, always answers his phone, Never turned people away, did whatever was asked of him.” (Crew member)

“He exceeded expectations. His willingness to take on additional responsibilities is unmatched by anyone.” (Borough Manager)

“His priorities were 1) Sewer, 2) Roads, 3) Parks. Whenever it started snowing, we would be called in and work 8 or 38 hours, whatever was needed.” (Crew member)

“In the middle of the night or whenever, he would be there.” (Crew member)

“The Borough is very fortunate.” (Borough Manager)

Yes, indeed. (Borough Citizen)

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February is such a pain!

It comes in like the hottest cheerleader at the prom: vivacious, stunningly beautiful, yet cold, and totally out of reach – a complete tease.

The snow and ice in the first weeks and the crisp but freezing temperatures only occasionally allow a few warmer days. The grey skies, the frigid rain and sleet that follow the soft snow of January, hold the promise of relief from December’s and January’s spirit-breaking cold. Every February, up pop snow drops, delicate little white flowers that promise an early spring. Then, just as I consider putting the shovels back into the far recesses of the garage, February breaks those promises every stinking, bone chilling year, with a snow-storm. 

March is a lot more honest. It starts out cold and wet and then, slowly and unfailingly, introduces longer days and more sun, along with leaf buds and flower buds here and there. But, instead of retreating back into winter cold and darkness, February-like, it adds more sun and more buds until, “Hey, Spring is here!” 

(Of course, March ends with “Hey Mr. Handsome! Oh, sorry! Not you Henry. I was talking to that hunk behind you” moments, too. Why else have April Fool’s Day?).

And then there’s Ground Hog day.  Imagine, the first country to travel to the moon, the country that invented the telephone, Hollywood, and the internet, asking a Ground Hog – who can’t even speak English – how long winter will last. Really?

And don’t get me started on Valentine’s Day. Several hundred years ago, so the story goes, a really nice cleric named Valentine, defied the powers that demanded fealty and fighting from young soldiers and instead encouraged yummy-mummy times between the soldiers and their girl friends. The cleric got sent to purgatory, but that’s nothing compared to today. 

Today’s Valentine’s Day requires, not just the young, but all men, to pony up romantic gifts for their girl friends. And if the gifts don’t meet expectations, no more yummy-mummy times, just sad eyes, followed by couch purgatory. I can’t swear to it, but I’ve heard there’s clear evidence that this is the real cause of lower birth rates in many parts of the world.

February is such a pain in so many ways. What other month has an extra “r” after the “b”, an “r” that is completely superfluous? It’s “Feb-U-ary”, not “Feb-Ru-ary”, for crying out loud. 

All of which is probably why February is the shortest month of the year. This Feb 28th I am going to hoist a few in honor of our forbears and thank them for ending the gloom of winter after 28 days instead of 30 or 31. Attaway, you guys!

Wait! It’s 29 days long this year? What!! Are you kidding!? That stupid ground hog!

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Equivocate, Equivocate, Equivocate…Oops!

If you’ve followed the news recently, you’ve seen a huge backlash against Harvard, Penn, and MIT for their presidents’ answer to Republican U.S. Representative Elise Stefanik’s question about their schools’ codes of conduct. Stefanik asked for a single word answer: “Yes” or “No”. 

She had spent her part of the five hour hearing trying to get the three presidents of these “elite”and “woke” institutions to admit to anti-semitism.  But every question she asked got weasel answers. Then, during a break she came up with an unweaselable question: would “calling for the genocide of Jews” violate their schools’ codes of conduct?

The answer she got was, in effect, a third single word: “maybe”, which blew the lid off of the hearing and got Stefanik and the GOP huge PR points. All three presidents, in one way or another, said it would depend on the situation or “context”.

Now President M. Elizabeth Magill of Penn has been forced to resign and all three universities are covered in Oops!

A college President’s primary task is fundraising. The number two executive, the Provost, runs the school. So, those three “maybe” answers put fundraising for Harvard, Penn and MIT in jeopardy. Magill resigned after one donor immediately withdrew his $100 million dollar donation to Penn.

To most people, any call “for the genocide of Jews” – or genocide of any group – would instinctively violate our code of not just conduct…but humanity. And these three heads of Ivy League schools are more astute than most people. 

So, what went wrong? In a word: Lawyers.

Let’s go back for a little, if you’ll pardon the expression, context.

Lawyers are rarely straightforward. They equivocate all the time. Ditto politicians, many of whom are lawyers. As a result, people who appear before Congress are equally evasive. A committee hearing is frequently a high stakes word-dance.

As a result, in order to prepare for testifying in front of a committee as hostile as this one was, all three presidents hired WilmerHale, a law firm that specializes in preparing people for Congressional testimony. And, guess what they taught their high profile students? Equivocate, Equivocate, Equivocate.

Sefanik’s questions involved the First Amendment’s Freedom of Speech clause. A legalese expert trying to duck a straight answer might allow that some speech “calling for the genocide of Jews” could be legal, if unpleasant. It might be a joke in a satire, part of a discussion of WWII  history, a line in a play, or part of a history class debate.  As a result, a lawyer might advise their client that the context, as with most Freedom of Speech issues, would affect the answer. 

Beyond their lawyer’s advice, all three presidents knew their institutions, long admired by Americans, were reviled by MAGA types for revering intellect and nuance over one word answers. They knew that Stefanik, a Harvard  graduate who had converted to Trumpism, was out to get them. In addition, their student and faculty populations are deeply and painfully riven by the Israeli/Hamas war. So for the sake of their students, faculty – and fund raising, these university presidents had a deep interest in not taking sides.

Which set them up to be clobbered by Stefanik. 

So, rather than answer candidly, they pulled a Clinton: 

1998 “Whether or not Mr. Bennett knew of your relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, the statement that there was ‘no sex of any kind in any manner, shape or form, with President Clinton,’ was an utterly false statement. Is that correct?”

“It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” Said Clinton.  

Later he added,”“While my answers were legally accurate, I did not volunteer information.”

These three presidents are highly educated and highly respected. They know that genocide is vicious, evil, deranged, even stupid (there are always a few who escape and never, ever forget or forgive). 

But instead of giving that answer, they equivocated, equivocated, equivocated.  

So Stefanik and the MAGAs gloat while three of the finest universities in the world are left to scoop up all those Oops!

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Dear President Biden: Here’s How To Win.

First, stop playing by Gentleman’s Club rules. Stop being polite, even courtly, toward your opponent. Stop being civil. Stop being nice.

As with all human evolution, politics has advanced and improved with time. Integrity and character are Old School now. What’s New School? Street fighting, with a capital “S”.

For example, your opponent has 91 indictments. How many indictments do you have, Joe? Ok, almost had one over secure papers you left in your garage. But they passed on it, right? So, 91 to 0. And  his approval ratings have gone up while yours have gone down.

Not good. Not good at all.

Your opponent has four court cases so far.  How many court cases are you involved in? Zero, for crying out loud! ….No, no, no! Don’t even think of citing Hunter’s problems. He’s your son, not your alter ego.

Oh! Here’s another problem: How much did your opponent increase the national debt during his Presidency? 40.43%! That’s huge.  And you? A paltry 8.79%! 

Are you kidding?

And what did your opponent use the money for? He lowered taxes so much for the top 1% that their tax rate of 23% is actually lower than what the bottom half of American households pays, at 24.2%.  See, that’s the way to do it! He gave the top 1% – you know, the people who fund campaigns – much more money,  not to mention a way to express their gratitude toward him. It’s a win-win, for them and him.

And what did you do with your money? You helped everyone BUT the rich! During the the Covid pandemic you gave $1400 to low income people for food and rent, $300 a week for additional unemployment, $7.25 billion for small business loans, $128 billion for state educational agencies. Not to mention infrastructure and climate change investments.


Here’s the key to getting elected, Joe: spending unholy amounts of money, not on people, on ads and campaign events and PR. To do that you have to get unholy amounts of money, not from people who struggle to make ends meet, but from people who… have unholy amounts of money!!  

Forget the little guy, for crying out loud!   

Now, here’s the big key to success: LIE . All Presidents lie, but there are major league liars and minor league liars. The Washington Post counted 78 “misleading claims” by you in your first 100 days as President. That’s it! They counted 511 in your opponent’s first 100 days as President – over five times yours!. They counted 30,000 lies during his four years as President. Your numbers were so low the Post doesn’t even talk about them.  No one does. 

Remember the old adage  “Bad press is better than no press”? You need press, Joe. Now!

Lying is a time honored tool of all politicians. Ignore it and your whole career is in peril. Look at what happened to Carter’s second term. Gone-zo!

Which is where you are headed right now. An early November poll of registered voters shows your opponent leading you by 49% to 45%. 

C’mon, Man!

Here’s the second key to success: insult everyone who supports your opponent. Use the words he uses to describe people who support you:  “Sad”, “Corrupt”, “Crime loving”, “Crazy”,  “Bad”, “Waste”, “Animal”, “Dishonest”, “Low Life”, “Dummy”, “No Talent”, “Fake”, and that gem from Hitler in the 1930’s , “Vermin”. 

Finally, don’t bother with debates.  They are so 20th Century. Talking about ideas, plans, and policies is … Z-Z-Z-Z-ZZZZ!!   You get much farther with sneers and lies.

It’s time to stop being Mr. Nice Guy. Remember, the more you attack your opponent, the more your opponent has to defend himself, and the more time he’s on the defense, the less time he has to attack you or schmooze voters.

So, forget the old rules, Joe. It’s a new world.  Forget dignity, integrity, and character. They don’t matter any more. Lie, cheat, steal – Those are the new rules. Pay attention or leave the stage.

Follow my advice and I guarantee you will get elected for a second term. How do I know?  Who do think advised your opponent in 2015? If he had just paid me before I died, I wouldn’t be writing you now.

Somewhat Sincerely,

Roy Cohn 

(Former Chief Counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy/Consigliere to Donald Trump)

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I don’t want to scare you, but…

We’ve done well with our one proxy War, the one between Russia and Ukraine.  We’ve spoken up and armed up for babies, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandfathers – all slaughtered or maimed for not giving up their freedom.

We also delayed sending the arms they most need, like F-16’s and Abrams tanks and long range missiles, because, hey,  who wants to poke The Bear too hard, right?  I mean he might actually be crazy enough to uncork a Nuke or two, despite knowing he’d be annihilated if he did… or at least rattle them. 

Kind of like how England’s Chamberlain avoided WWII.

Instead of sending Ukraine its most needed weapons, we have sent them enough lessor ones (missile, shells, etc..) to keep the war going, but not really win it, and, in doing so depleted our own supplies, you know, the ones we would use if, say, we got into a battle with Mexico or their cartels over drugs (OK, not likely, but actually proposed recently in the Presidential campaign). So no worries. Right?

Still, the last thing any of us needs is a second proxy war. Right?

Like, say, between Israel and Hamas/Palestine. We turned our eyes for years as Israel put it’s knee to the neck of Palestine, hoping it wouldn’t actually get too unpleasant. Because, hey, without Israel’s help, who would help us keep Iran in check? So we just kept hoping Palestine’s terrorist street gang, Hamas, would just boil and not boil over.

But boil over is exactly what they did. With Iran cheering from supply depots and training centers, Hamas feigned few arms and lack of urgency and caught Israel flat-footed, wreaking agony and devastation back on Israeli.

Yep, that’s the same Iran whose relationship with Russia goes back to the 1500’s and who has been shipping swarms of drones to Russia for it’s war with Ukraine.

And, yep, that’s the same Iran whose relationship with China goes back to circa 200 BC and who signed a 2021 agreement with China re-cementing economic and strategic ties.

Meanwhile the US, which successfully fought a two-front war in WWII, decided around ten years ago that maintaining military  capability for a two-front actual war was too costly. So now we have a two-front proxy war.

Boy, it’s really lucky that China, which has been threatening to take back Taiwan despite our macho warnings, hasn’t actually done so.

Unless Xi now decides we’re properly distracted and does attack Taiwan, presenting us with a third separate proxy war.

Or, he teams up with Russia and Iran for a three-front actual war…or…WWIII… 

But hey, no chance of that, right?

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