The Democrats’ Circular Firing Squad

There are now 23 – What? Oh, New York’s de Blasio? OK, make that 24 – Democratic candidates for President.

That’s either very stupid or very smart. I’ll go with stupid, because politics is stupid, at least for the most part.

Years ago, I was a Republican Committee man for Malvern Borough. My job was to find candidates for public office, go door-to-door with them, hand out literature, put out yard signs, and stand around the polls on election day, appearing to be nice to Democrats, but really trying to backstab them to any voter who would listen. 

OK. I didn’t backstab. But I could have.

There were area “dog and pony shows”, at which candidates for local offices would make pitches. Some were good, but many were out-of-work dog catchers. Their qualifications were, generally, very similar: good attendance at church, high school graduates, no domestic violence, earnest expressions, short hair (men and women), fewer than three divorces, kids with straight teeth and straight A’s, and genetic loyalty to the Republican Party. 

Committee people would listen intently and vote our favorites. Usually that would be neighbors, or friends. Once in awhile, it would be for someone who might make a good politician. 

Again – not that bad, but close.

After the “dog and pony shows” was the county Republican convention. All the committee men and women would gather to vote on candidates who had made it through the dog and pony shows. By that time, the powers within the County would have quietly informed everyone who to vote for. There would be perfunctory (and very boring) speeches, and then votes, which generally went according to plan. In Chester County, PA, which at that time was, I don’t know, 105% Republican, the fix was in.

I tried a few times to buck the system. Once, at my urging, Betty Burke (the Republican Committee woman and for decades a real power in the County) and I backed a Democrat for our town Council.  

When the big shots threatened to throw us out of the party, we told them we had been unable to recruit a qualified Republican. That was sort of true. The Republican possibilities were bozos and the Democrat was smart, understood city planning, and seemed to love the little town.

Because Betty had more clout than the top County Republicans, they backed off.

It turned out to be my biggest and longest lasting mistake. My choice, Woody Van Sciver, a general contractor type, backed a nearly quarter of a mile long, five story high, poorly constructed city-like apartment complex that towers over the main entrance to what had been a charming little village, the tallest house up being a three story Victorian.

Fortunately Betty didn’t live to shed tears for the little town she loved. Or call me to task. 

The Democrats had a process similar to Republicans for choosing people, although at that time, they were hard-pressed to find any candidates (remember, this was WBT, Way Before Trump). They loved intelligent conversation and genteel debates, but hated being told what to do. 

I was sneaked into one of their County Conventions once. It consisted of talking, and talking,… and  talking… 

“Let’s hear from everybody who wants to be heard before we vote.” 

After an hour and a half, I left. I imagine, at some point, they drew straws for the winners. That way, no-one’s ego would have been shrunk.

Republicans are team players – to a fault. Democrats are talkers – to a fault. 

Is it just earnestness and ego that makes 23 people, most unknown nationally, think they should be President? Or do they know something? A prize, perhaps? For the most miles traveled? Most appearances on Morning Joe? 

Hey! Next to live sports, we know politics gets the most eyeballs and clicks. Maybe the media is behind it. Maybe this whole thing is a scam by the media! 

Nah… Now I’m buying into Trump-anoia. 

But it is an enigma. Every one of these candidates has a good resume. Most have real government experience of one kind or another. They are all smart, successful, capable. If enough of them ran for the Senate, where they have a good chance of winning, the Democratic Party would control both Houses. 

Instead of that, the Democrats have fielded a 23 person circular attack squad, almost assuring Trump will be back for four more. 

See what I mean about stupid?

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Holy Electronics! Is That A Radio Shack?

The other day I needed to replace the power cable for a piece of video gear. One end had a three pronged “male”, the other a three pronged “female”. 

In times past I would have motored down to my local Radio Shack. One of the staff would have walked me over to the right rack and pointed to the right cable. 

We might have chatted about… whatever. Then, while tapping away at the register he or she would have tried to sell me a pack or two of spare batteries.  I would have bought a pack (you never know when you’ll need a battery, you know) and paid $10 bucks or so for both.

But this day was different because, sad to say, Radio Shacks have folded up and faded into history over the last few years, yet another victim of Amazon and the Internet.

Radio Shack was named after those little shacks on ships that housed early radio equipment. It was started in 1921 by Theodore and Milton Deutschmann, who wanted to cash in on the newest craze: HAM (as in incompetent amateurs) Radio. 

It is said that on April 15, 1912, a Russian immigrant named David Sarnoff was in the radio “shack” of the Manhattan Wannamakers – one of the first department stores (and also long gone) when he saw telegraph chatter from the ships rescuing Titanic survivors. Sarnoff told the world and became famous. 

He also started NBC.

Ok, enough history.

I looked up “power cable” on the internet. Amazon popped up with several, priced from $7.99 to $9.99.  I could have tapped a few keys, sat on my bumpkin, and had it in a few days. 

Thing is, I didn’t want it in a few days. I wanted it now. Plus, to me Amazon is like the lion and the elephant combined: it eats everything that crosses its path and remembers everything else. I’m more of a “protect Bambi” type.

So I got in the car and drove down to my local hardware store. 

The guy there was fascinated “Wow! Haven’t seen one of these in years.” (Hey, the power cable was only a few years old!). He looked in several aisles and came close, but no luck. I told him Amazon carried it, but I’m not a fan. He gave me a silent thumbs up and suggested an electrical supply store 15 minutes away.

No luck there either, although another thumbs up about Amazon and nostalgia about Radio Shack. Then, “Hey, I think there’s a store like that a few miles from here. They call it “The Shack” or “Shack” because they’re not allowed to use the full Radio Shack name.”

20 minutes later I turned into a “Dollar” type mall and there it was, not “The Shack” or “Shack”, but “Radio Shack” – a crisp and clean original logo. 

Call me Marty and my ride a Delorean. 

I walked in, fascinated. There were the familiar racks full of gadgets and spare parts. The saleswoman had the power cable in my hands in, maybe, 30 seconds. I told her I thought Radio Shacks were long gone. She said there are about 300 (up from 70 in 2017) and growing, but slowly. They’re franchises now.  She and her husband bought this one recently.

“How’s business?”

“We’re opening another about 10 miles away… a pack of spare batteries?”

“Oh…sure. One, please.”

In a way, malls got what they deserved. The first enclosed mall was built in 1956 in Minneapolis. Soon after, they became ubiquitous, sucking customers out of small towns. Except in affluent areas (that’s you, Ardmore, Bryn Mawr, Wayne, and Malvern), town centers are history. 

What malls did to small towns, Amazon is doing to malls. 

But, Amazon is more. It isn’t just swallowing retail, it’s also swallowing data. And people. Sure it’s efficient- where else can you get 10 different things in one box delivered to your door in a day or two? But there’s a human toll too.  Amazon records every price inquiry, every birthday wish, every thing you buy. They know what you like and don’t like. How much you spend, and where you keep your money, how many kids you have and where they are, your friends and family, your bank. They use that data and they sell it for billions.

I went to three stores that employ around 20 people at a lot more than $15/per hour. I met some new people. Not people performing robotic tasks in unseen warehouses. Not robots. People. 

It was fun. And I got my new power cable in an hour, not a day or two. 

And some spare batteries, just in case.

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Cristof and Teresa

In 1976, when she was 15, Teresa loved two things: her boyfriend, Javier, and English. So, her father, being fairly well-heeled and very smart, arranged for her to go from Venezuela to Cincinnati for the summer, where his pal from Venezuela, Cincinnati Reds star shortstop Dave Conception, watched over her. 

She loved everything about English and Cincinnati. But, like all teenagers, she had to go home for school. 

Strike one. 

Years later, in 1982, she came back to the US, this time to Camden, Arkansas with her first husband (“who will be not be mentioned again, por favor!”) She loved Camden, too (if that sounds strange, remember – Arkansas, not New Jersey). 

As you might imagine from the “por favor!”, the marriage broke up, so she returned to Venezuela. (I might add, this was before Venezuela became the mess it is today. In fact, it was pretty nice).

Strike two.

She studied management and wished she was in the US. That’s when her Javier, now in the US, found her and ”a beautiful love story began”. She returned, this time to Birmingham, Alabama and married him.

Home Run.

(What is the Supreme Law of the land?)

Also in the 70’s, a young Cristof, of flowing dark hair and earnest eyes, was working his way through architecture school in Pati, Italy, as a dishwasher, when he decided architecture was boring. What was fascinating was cooking. 

“My father loved cooking,” he says.  “He made sweet and sour rabbit. Amazing!” 

So he left school and went to Milan to train as a cook. That started a trek that took him to Dubai, Bahrain, Oman, Paris, and England, among other places and, eventually, Fort Myers, Florida, where he started the McGregor Cafe and hired Teresa in 1998. 

(The Federalist Papers supported the passage of the U.S. Constitution. Name one of the writers.)

He cooked many meals for many people, including the world famous French chef, Alain Ducasse who praised his cooking. “The best compliment I’ve ever gotten”.

He cooked for the Princess of Jordan, the Sultan of Oman, Pavarotti (“what a nice man!”), and, at the McGregor Cafe, Jimmy Carter, “so real, not a phony.”)

(Who is the Chief Justice of the United States?)

Restaurant work is very demanding. Successful restaurants – those that fill the seats all year – require 12-14 hour days of hard work and happy faces. By 2008, he was “how you say…burned out?” At age 40 and successful, he sold the Cafe and retired. 

(When was the Declaration of Independence adopted?)

But restaurant work can also really get into your blood. Less than a year later, stone bored, he drove by an old Florida house just up the road from the Cafe, bought it, and started “Cristof’s on McGregor”.  

He hired Teresa to manage the place so he could concentrate on his second love, cooking. (His first love is named Rachel, with whom he has “exactly the same age difference as my father had with my mother!”).

(When was the Constitution written?)

Cristof says he will never retire. Teresa doesn’t look like she will either. “I wanted to work with him. He’s like a brother to me.”

(Why do some states have more Representatives than other states?)

Was it hard to attain citizenship? 

“No”, says Teresa, with a slight accent. “I learned everything about my new country. I loved it. I am thankful every day.”

“No”, says Cristof. Shades of Italy linger in his voice, even at 60. “You have to show respect for laws, the country… and president.” He pauses. “When in Rome…”, he smiles without finishing the sentence.  

Then, to me, “you know what salt does to food?” (Uh…) ”Makes it sweat – like you and I do… releases the juices.” And off to the kitchen he loves.

Why do I write about these two people? Because, like you and me, they work hard, pay their taxes, raise healthy, contributing families, and are living the American Dream. Cristof and Teresa have done very well, just as many natural born Americans have. 

But they had to learn a language and culture you and I were born into.

(If both the President and the Vice President can no longer serve, who becomes President?)

And they had to pass The US Citizenship Naturalization Test, a test you and I never took or even saw. Some of the questions they answered correctly are sprinkled throughout this story. 

I’m sure you, like me, got every one of them right.  Right?

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Why Even Have The Mueller Report?

OK. It proved that the New York Times, Washington Post and others gave us real, not fake news. It proved Trump tried to have Mueller fired. It proved Trump’s lawyers know he lies through his teeth. It even found evidence of obstruction. But, according to Mueller, a sitting President can’t be indicted. 

So why even have the Mueller Report?

I suggest three reasons.

First, history. Mueller’s not a historian, but he might as well be, because he has provided a detailed history of what happened. And he did it now, not ten, thirty or a hundred years from now. More important, where most historians spend years, on their own, digging through dusty old records, Mueller and his 13 investigators researched original material and interviewed actual witnesses. They backed up most of their facts with second sources.  

So, just from a historical perspective, this material is pristine and invaluable. 

Second, it tells us one (at least somewhat) reassuring, fact: while many consider Trump as corrupt a President as the country has ever seen, at least some of his key people were ethical. Seven administration members, including Sessions, Rosenstein and McGahn, simply ignored Trump’s orders and refused to fire Mueller. That takes integrity.

Of course, we’ll see about those whom Trump put in their places.

Third, and maybe most important, despite all the verbiage and cable outrage, it wasn’t Mueller’s job to decide if Trump was colluding, obstructing, or doing anything else wrong. His job was to investigate and, if he saw collusion, obstruction or other crimes, take it to another branch of government: the courts. 

Prosecutors – Mueller included – don’t decide guilt or innocence; judges do. Prosecutors don’t decide punishments; judges do. 

There’s a good reason for this: the US Constitution.

Before 1787, most countries had kings, queens, emperors, and the like. With a few exceptions, these leaders decided everything from what you ate, to where you lived… to if you ate… or if you lived.  

Our forefathers changed all that. They deliberately avoided the idea of one person – the President – deciding guilt or innocence and/or punishment. Instead, they wrote a rule book of sorts that left the decision as to whether their rules had been followed to a third, completely independent, branch of government, the courts.

That way, there could never again be a King George, Louis XVI, or any other demagogue. As far as the founding fathers were concerned, morality was the purview of the Bible and other religious tomes. Government was simply responsible for insuring equal treatment under the law. 

The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and religion, but doesn’t make decisions about when that freedom has been breeched; the courts make that call. It guarantees freedom from search and seizure, but doesn’t decide when that has been breeched or what to do about it; lawyers argue the law and judges decide. It defines how states relate to each other, the importance of federal laws, and how to change elements of the Constitution. It lays out the framework of the government, but not what happens if, for example, a President exceeds his powers (Congress becomes the court in that case. The House decides to impeach and the Senate makes the judgement).

The Constitution is four pages of very carefully thought out rules that evenly distribute power to three separate branches of government, a deliberate odd number. 

The laws that have been written, using the Constitution as a bedrock, comprise hundreds of thousands of pages, and growing, every year.  No small irony there.

So, as frustrating as it may feel to read the Mueller report (four hundred times longer than the Constitution, by the way) and find no closure, we can take solace in the fact that 1) the facts are now cast in concrete, 2) there was at least some integrity and 3) the report was never designed to give closure or make moral judgement; it was only designed to set up the next step, whatever that may be.

Mueller did his job, meticulously. It’s now up to Congress and/or the Courts to do their job in one of three ways.

1) They can do nothing. 2) The House can start impeachment, although the Senate will definitely block it. 3) Congress can continue investigating and hope more facts will either exonerate Trump and his administration or prosecute them.

And there’s a fourth option. If those two branches fail at their job, we can do ours. We can elect a new Congress and/or a new President.

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A Really Nice Healthcare Story

“Black or Blue?” she asks.

The young man hesitates, before answering.  

An illustrator/author is a person who writes and then draws and paints pictures that clarify his writing (for people like me). Subjects can cover everything from comics to mythical creatures to science concepts. 

In the case of this young New York artist, it’s all three. His blog, Veritable Hokum started a few years ago with comics telling funny stories from history (my favorite is The Emu War (http://www.veritablehokum.com/comic/the-emu-war/). His book about myths, Gods and Heroes, came out last spring. The Invention Hunters, a series of four books explaining science concepts to elementary school kids, starts hitting store shelves this July.  

When he’s not illustrating his own books, he illustrates other authors’ books. Busy guy.

Illustrators (and artists) earn their living with one hand, like professional pitchers or quarterbacks. If a professional athlete injures that key hand, it can be career ending. Ditto illustrators and artists. With one important exception: professional athletes have multi-million dollar incomes to cushion disaster; freelance artists don’t.

This young man is typical, a struggling artist on the cusp of success. It isn’t easy. His latest deadline requires months of long days spent researching, writing, and illustrating concepts like magnetism, electricity, and leverage, in a form that appeals to school kids. (His solution: four goofball academics – The Invention Hunters – parachute into places with mysterious things they’ve never seen, like toilets and jackhammers. They guess – badly – at what these things do and how they work, until an elementary school student sets them straight.) 

After months of drawing, his hand becomes so painful, he can’t use it. He buys an arm brace. Nothing. Even a simple circle is impossible. 

Specialist’s appointments, if you can find one, are usually months off. He perseveres and finds one. He describes his pain and work deadline.

“Any opening in the next week or so?”  

“No. Goodbye.” 

 New Yorkers can be very efficient.

When a publisher calls with a contract to start illustrating another author’s new book that week, he has to turn it down. 

With no other choice, he takes his first break in over a year to visit his father in Florida for a week. Better to ponder his dwindling career in Florida sun than in New York sleet. Although he doesn’t say it, he is scared.

That’s when he gets lucky.

A friend of his father recommends a Dr. Douglas Carlan in St. Petersburg.  He gets an appointment for a few days later – with one call.  When they learn he doesn’t have insurance, instead of rejecting him, they allow a modest cash payment. They x-ray his hand. 

(Wait! What? No “your call is important to us”? No “we’re booked, try the ER”?  No “the doctor’s out; you can see the PA”? … What?)

Dr. Carlan actually listens as the young man describes his work, the pain in his hand, and his time constraint, then checks the x-ray and methodically and carefully examines the hand. He finds the exact pain center and diagnoses a severely inflamed ligament. He smiles and tells the young man there is no permanent damage. 

He writes a prescription for a brace and therapy: “There’s an office down stairs. Go right now and ask for Elizabeth. She’s really good.”

The young man goes to the ground floor. Elizabeth, who is leaving for the day, stops to listen to his story.

“I can’t take a lot of time, because I have to pick up my daughter, but…” 

She grabs some thick plastic sheets, one blue, one black.

“Black or blue”, she asks.

“Uh…black, please.” (He is from New York, after all.)  

As he answers, she is already measuring his hand.  She cuts three Velcro strips, then cuts the black plastic to fit his forearm, warms it on a machine to make it pliable, and gently wraps it around his forearm, securing it with the Velcro.

The pain, once part of his life and future fear, immediately begins ebbing away. While he is moving his fingers and marveling at his newfound freedom, Elizabeth writes down some exercises to strengthen his wrist. 

Then, “Sorry. I have to pick up my daughter. Call me if you have a problem!”

She waves and is gone. 

On the way home, the young man calls the publisher he had turned down. He asks if the contract is still open. The answer isn’t quite “For you? Yes!” But it is pretty close. 

Now that’s a happy ending.

Is this story just wishful thinking in light of today’s healthcare mess? Nope, it really happened. I know. I was there. 

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