Why I don’t lie…much.

It’s not that I look down on liars. I do, but that’s not the reason I don’t lie much. 

And it’s not that I don’t find myself, on occasion, in need of a really good, really inventive lie. For example, when I’m at a restaurant with a new friend and the food is really expensive but just OK tasting and the server interrupts my attempt scintillating conversation with “How’s the food?”, I wish I could say something truthful, like ”It’s not great, but I’m really trying hard here, so could you please just buzz off?!”

But I don’t. “Great!” I say, hoping he won’t ask anything else and run my train of thought further off the track. It’s a lie. And not very clever, but it allows me to get back at the task at hand quickly.

There are all kinds of lies; for example: Loyalty Lies. 

If a friend asks how I like her new dress I always, always like it. Ditto hairdos, shoes, and all her friends.

My friends’ kids are also cute as buttons and very smart. 

Or Silly Lies.

Years ago, and I mean many, many years, a single friend and I were at a bar, sitting a few stools away from a very pretty woman. He told me to pretend to argue with him – and loudly. So I did. We yelled back and forth for a minute or so and then he held his hands up. He walked over to the woman and said, “Could you settle an argument? My friend thinks you’re 40. I don’t think you’re a day over 30. Which of us is right?” 

Of course, not everyone appreciates Silly Lies. The woman paid her bill and left. 

I think one reason so many young people like Bernie Sanders is he doesn’t seem to lie that much. If he did, I doubt he’d even use the word “socialist”, as in “Democratic Socialist”.  The “S-#@!“ word has been taboo since the 1930’s, when it was first confused with “communism”. In the 1950’s, McCarthy used it to great advantage until he got caught lying. Trump is already polishing it for use next year on any and every Democrat.

The media and Democrats say Trump has lied over 10,000 times since taking office. His fans call that a Statistical Lie – or would, except they really don’t care; he’s their liar, after all.

Also, at this point we all know he lies. So, no big deal, right?

When other politicians lie, though, it is a big deal. When Elizabeth Warren kept saying she’d raise “taxes” on the wealthy to pay for Medicare For All, but “costs” wouldn’t go up for the middle class, I was really impressed. Until I realized “costs” sounded like another word for “taxes”, but it could have meant that overall “costs”, including “medical” would shrink, but “taxes” would still grow. She just didn’t want to tell the middle class their taxes could still go up.

That’s called a Clever Lie. Most politicians excel at those.

Trump is one of the best liars ever – no matter what the reason. For example, I’m sure he never had to lean on his dog for a missing homework. Nope, I’ll bet his excuse was, “I’m sorry to say teacher, your dog ate my homework.” 

The thing that makes him such a great liar is he never backs down from a lie. He lies about the lies. 

It’s a very good tactic, but you have to be good at it.  

His “acting” Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, tried to pull a Trump in trying to “walk back” (lie) about his lie to Fox’s Chris Wallace last Sunday about Trumps’ “quid pro quo” phone call with Ukraine.  (See YouTube “Mick Mulvaney One-On-One with Chris Wallace 10 20 19”).

He got most of Trump’s moves right. He was measured, confident. And best of all, he kept a straight face. (“Who, me lie? Oh Gosh, No!”)

But he failed at the lie about the lie. All he offered was, “I didn’t say what I did say”. Definitely not up to Trump standards. Trump would have said something way more bombastic. 

It was like the Eagles Cody Kessler trying to become Carson Wentz.

That’s why I don’t lie much, except for Loyalty Lies. It’s too hard to make up a really good, believable lie, too hard to deny it when caught, and too hard to remember, down the road, what the heck I had lied about anyway.

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When Standing On The Sidelines Isn’t Enough

One of the best things that ever happened to Malvern, PA was Pat McGuigan. This self-deprecating ex-Army Command Sergeant Major retired to Malvern in the 80’s, drawn by its rural, down-to-earth charm.  A doer instead of a talker, Pat became President of the Borough Council for a time and then retired again. 

One day in the 90’s, when Malvern woke up to being virtually broke, Sam and Betty Burke, town elders for whom Malvern’s Burke Park is named, brought McGuigan back as Manager. He did two things that had immediate impact: one, he stopped all but the most necessary spending (legend has it that when the Police Chief bought something without an OK, McGuigan made him pay for it) and two, every night after dinner, he and his wife Margaret walked different parts of the Borough, getting to know the people and spotting small problems before they became big.

Within two years, he had brought Malvern back to health.

Pre-McGuigan, many area realtors avoided Malvern; post-McGuigan, they feature it. Malvern had arrived. That’s one reason the Malvern government bulding is named McGuigan Hall.

This is the kind of leadership the country yearns for today: an honest, modest leader who gets things done. Despite all the headlines, these kinds of leaders still exist. You just have to look for them behind the blowhards and me-firsters.

Rural villages like Malvern are fragile things, easily overpowered by voracious developers and ego-centric politicians who want more high rise apartment complexes, more sidewalks, more stop signs, more speed bumps, and other symbols of “progress”- people who simply don’t get it.

And then there are people who do get it, like Pat McGuigan.

And Joe Bones. 

Joe and his wife, Sarah, first moved into an apartment on Woodland Avenue in 1976. Later they bought a small house on High Street where they raised two children and embarked on successful careers. She is a freelance photographer and video director; he has been one of the “experts” at Bartlett Tree Experts since 1971 when he graduated from Conestoga High School. An arborist who now supervises 300 people, he has lectured on tree care and safety as far away as Singapore.

In the middle 80’s, he and Sam Burke started the Malvern Tree Commission. Around the same time, Sarah joined the Borough Planning Commission and eventually became the Vice-President of the Borough Council. Their joint commitment to open space resulted in Randolf Woods, an untouched wooded area behind the Malvern Fire Station that is now protected by state law. 

Why do I tell you about one couple in this one little town? 

First, Malvern is a great example of what once was and still can be: a small town inhabited by people who – corny as it sounds – have timeless values like integrity, volunteering, and a strong sense of community. 

Second, Joe Bones is running for Malvern Borough Council. 

A few years ago, he noticed that Randolf Woods wasn’t being taken care of properly. Its neighbors were dumping rusty bikes and other trash. Walking paths were being vandalized. 

He went to the Borough Council with his concerns. 

“They listened politely, said ‘thanks for telling us’ – and did nothing”, he says.

But Joe understands process and perseverance. He went to the Planning Commission and together they formed a committee of 10 other citizens. Then all 10 went back to the Council. There is now a 90-page plan in place for maintaining, upgrading, and preserving Randolf Woods, along with funding. 

“Randolf Woods will be a jewel”, Joe says. 

Why run for Borough Council? Because of politics today. 

“I realized that standing on the sidelines isn’t enough anymore”, he says. “You have to do something.”

“Zoning needs to be updated,” he adds. “Something as simple as setbacks requirements (the space between properties) need to be revised.” 

He also noticed that Council votes have become somewhat automatic. “People don’t ask questions that much anymore. I just think we need more questions – from Council Members and the public. It’s our town, after all.”

Several days a week, Joe and Sarah walk the Borough. They chat with fellow Malvernites. When they see a defective telephone pole, a cracked sidewalk or other problems, they report it to the Borough Manager.  The problems get fixed.

Good people pick up on good practices.

And good people aren’t hard to find. You just have to vote for them.

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The Question For Regulators

When I was in high school some of the coaches were also teachers. The other teachers were respectful to the coaches, but were well aware of the difference between a coach/teacher and a teacher/teacher. Teacher/teachers thought of themselves as, well… smarter.  It was subtle, but prevalent.

The feeling filtered down to students. We were pretty convinced that having a coach as a teacher was a ticket to easier classes and better grades.

On the field, the head football coach, Coach Corkery, was from the Knute Rockne school of football – no pain no gain, sacrifice everything for the team, leave it all on the field, that kind of thing. 

As hard-nosed as he was on the field, though, we were pretty sure his US History course would be a snap. After all, how much could a football coach with the winningest record in decades, care about US history, right?

But we were wrong. He actually liked teaching and he really knew his history. The drill sergeant was gone. If you hadn’t done your homework, there was no yelling; he simply ignored you.  

And instead of barking commands, he asked questions.

One day he walked into class with just one question: what differentiates the US version of democracy from other democracies?  

Without offering even a hint of an answer, he watched us argue and debate for the entire 50 minute class. Just before the bell rang, we hit on an answer: protection of the minority. He smiled and waved us out. 

Like all lessons one learns for oneself, it was one I’ll never forget.

The concept is embedded in the Constitution, inherent in Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, States Rights, the Amendments, and the Justice System. Even the basic three branches of government are designed to protect against too much centralized power.  

Small wonder so many of our regulations stem from the Constitution’s protections of the minority. 

When Teddy Roosevelt came into power there was an imbalance between the haves and the have-nots. People like Rockefeller had cornered the market on oil, creating a monopoly that cut out other providers and controlled prices. So Teddy outlawed monopolies to protect those without money and power.

In the 1930’s, his younger cousin, Franklin, further balanced power with a series of regulations designed to protect the have-nots from the haves. 

The Glass-Steagall Act separated investment banking from personal accounts, so banks couldn’t use your savings to fund their investments (the kind of thing that led to the Great Depression and, more recently, after Clinton dumped Glass-Steagall, the 2008 Great Recession). Roosevelt added Social Security to protect retirees from becoming homeless. He established the Tennessee Valley Authority to bring electricity to the poor in the Tennessee Valley.  

From the thirties through the sixties, unions organized workers and gave them power to balance that of the big companies. They pushed through laws protecting the minority they represented – the middle class. So the middle class thrived.

Recently, though, with the arrival of Silicon Valley Oligarchs and an economy and tax system that benefits the very wealthy, the pendulum has swung back to the side of the haves.

Now Rockefeller has been replaced by Comcast’s Roberts, Carnegie by Amazon’s Bezos, Mellon by JP Morgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, and so many CEO’s who are paid five and six hundred times what many of their employees are paid.

We’re living in a second Gilded Age.

Why does the pendulum keep swinging back and forth? Because human beings are competitive and have been since the first caveman grabbed the biggest cave. 

You see competition in every aspect of today’s world, from sports to politics to economics.

Competition fuels capitalism which has led to the great success of the US. We all want the biggest cave. The only problem is that capitalism, unregulated, becomes the law of the jungle; a lot of people end up with no cave.

Socialism goes the other way. Countries in Scandinavia, for example, have tons of regulations designed to make sure everyone gets basic necessities. Minorities are protected. So, everybody gets a cave of some sort. But socialism also discourages the incentive to compete.

So there’s a natural tension between capitalism and socialism, between the law of the jungle and the law of humanity. 

Between protection of the powerful and protection of the powerless.

The question for the regulators – and voters – is: how much is too much and how little is too little? 

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Is Impeachment A Political Tool Or A Moral Obligation?

For the last umpteen months, almost since he took office, impeachment talk has centered on the most hated/admired President since Andrew Johnson, Donald Trump. 

Wait. Since Nixon… No. Clinton.

Wait! Franklin Roosevelt was really, really hated in 1932. Then he was loved and went on to four terms. Which, by 1951, caused another change of heart: limiting a President to two terms via the 22nd Amendment.   

We are a fickle country.

If you want to get rid of a President or other high official, you have two options, the 25th Amendment for mental incompetence, and Article 2, Impeachment for “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Article 2 also gives The House of Representatives the “sole Power of Impeachment” and the Senate “the sole Power to try all impeachments”. 

When she was only 28 and the House of Representatives first considered impeaching Richard Nixon, Hillary Clinton helped write a report on Impeachment. It noted that 83 federal officials had been served with Articles of Impeachment since the Constitution made it out of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall in 1789.  

In 1974 the House used the report in deciding to impeach Nixon. It must have been a pretty impressive piece, because Nixon resigned before he could be impeached.

Over the years, only 8 Presidents have faced impeachment and, of those, only two have actually been impeached: Andrew Johnson and, ironically, Hillary’s husband, Bill. Both were acquitted.

More ironically, Congress is using the same report today as they consider impeaching Hillary’s nemesis, Donald Trump. 

At 0 for 3 since 1789, it is small wonder Pelosi is leery of impeaching a President.

Of course that leaves out all those non-presidents who have been impeached over the years. 

The first judge to be impeached was John Pickering in 1803. He was nominated by George Washington, no less. Even so, he lost his job due to mental instability and intoxication on the bench.  

Mental instability and intoxication are pretty common excuses today for everything from petty theft to wife-beating and mass murder; Impeachment is a high bar.

Since 1803, 15 judges, two presidents, one Secretary of War, and one Senator have been impeached. Eight were found guilty and removed from office. One case was dismissed. Seven were acquitted. Three resigned.   

The most recent federal judge to lose his job, Thomas Corteous, of Louisiana’s Eastern District, was caught taking bribes and lying about it. Too bad he couldn’t use the instability/intoxication excuse.

Which brings up Brett Kavanaugh. Remember him from way back in July of last year? And Christine Ford, the woman who claimed he sexually assaulted her during high school? Remember Trump and GOP leaders preventing the FBI from a complete investigation of Ford’s claims? Or Deborah Ramirez’s claim, corroborated by at least 7 others, that Kavanaugh waved his penis in front of her at a Yale party? 

At his hearing, Kavanaugh admitted to liking beer, but despite of some weird tears and outbursts, he was never accused of mental instability or intoxication. Instead he was approved for the Supreme Court in a historically close vote, 50-48.

It is now being reported that another Yale woman was also visited by Kavanaugh’s waving penis. So, now Democrats are calling for him to be impeached. 

That makes two people the Democrats want to impeach, Kavanaugh and Trump (for some reason, they’ve left out Senate Leader Mitch McConnell – must be his good looks).

The problem for Democrats is that impeachment efforts usually fail. With a Republican Senate, the prospects of impeaching Trump or Kavanaugh are about the same as either one retiring and moving to the Bahamas. 

So, why even start impeachment if you know it might fail? 

Beyond that, the impeachment of Trump or Kavanaugh may well define the entire 2020 Presidential campaign, smothering a long list of kitchen table subjects, such as climate change, healthcare, economic inequality, education, infrastructure, etc…  

Politics is not included in the Constitution, beyond some ground rules. The Constitution doesn’t suggest when to do anything about “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” It simply offers a way to stop them. House members decide when, or even whether, to do so.  

So, if Congress sees “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” should it use the Constitution or not? If it doesn’t act now, will it weaken the Articles of Impeachment for future use? Is Impeachment a political or moral tool? 

If the House does nothing, is it doing something?  

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Phrases That Don’t Mean What They Say

I remember distinctly the first time anyone said, “Have a nice day.” It was in the last century, circa 1970’s. I was in Baltimore where I produced and directed The Arnold Zenker Show, a morning talk show at WJZ-TV. Carrie Peterson, an Associate Producer was seeing a guest out. Instead of just saying “Thanks for doing the show” or even “Bye!”, she cheerily said both and then added a phrase I’d never heard: 

“Have a nice day!” she said. 

Carrie was a very cheery person. She was also smart and nice. If I had to use just one word to describe her, though, “cheery” would be it. 

Or “chipper”, maybe. She was chipper, too.

They shook hands and off he went. As she walked by me, I said, “what’s with ‘Have a nice day?’”

“I just heard that the other day”, she said. “I thought it was a cool. You know. And new.” 

(Did I mention this was decades ago?)

“Well, I guess. But …‘Have a nice day’ as opposed to what,  ‘Have nasty day’?” 

And then:  “Hey, Carrie! How about, ‘Have a really nasty day… and a nastier night!’” 

She gave me a “whatever-you-had-for-breakfast-get-over-it!” look and went into her office.

Guess who was not having a nice day? Yep. Arnold had just informed me that the guest I had booked that day was duller than a preacher on Monday morning and making him seem interesting was like a being nice to IRS agent.

Since then I’ve noticed we say a lot of things to each other don’t mean anything close to what we say.

You go to a restaurant with your son and the waiter says, “I’m Fred (or Sally or Bozo). I’ll be taking care of you.”

(Really? How about paying my electric bill? My grandmother thinks I’m my father. Could you straighten her out? Or my son here. He plays video games all day instead of looking for a job. Could you get him to take a shower, or maybe pick up his room? How about just getting him to answer his phone!) 

Later on, just as I’m finally convincing my son that growing up is a good thing, the waiter butts in with “How’s the food?” And while I am answering politely, my son rethinks the whole thing!

The newest way of saying, “I don’t know” or “I have absolutely no idea”, is “I’m not sure”. 

You go into a grocery store and ask a worker where the light bulbs are. 

“I’m not sure”. 

“Well, where do you think they might be?”

“I’m not sure.”

“The paper goods aisle, perhaps?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Stationary aisle?”

“I’m not sure”

“Meat? Cereal? Produce?”

“Not sure.”

“Any idea what day it is?”

It took a few times, but now I give up at the first “I’m not sure”. It’s just better for the universe. I’m sure.

Back to the restaurant. The server brings your food and says, “Enjoy!”. Not “I hope you enjoy this”, or “please enjoy”. Just “enjoy”. It’s an order. I haven’t done it yet, but one day I’m just going to blurt out, “Uh, No!”

As time has gone on, I’ve become much smarter about phrases that don’t mean what they say. For example, the first time I heard, “Your call is important to us” and “We value your time”, I knew neither was true. The robot had never even met me. 

I am waiting for the time when I can leave a message for the robot: “No, it isn’t important to you and no, you don’t value my time. But you know what? They’re both important to me.” Followed by a loud Bronx cheer.

When I was a kid and someone asked, “How are you?” I might have answered, “Not good. I got an F on my English test and the dog pooped on the rug and I got blamed for not taking him out and …” And they might have said, “Well that’s too bad… or “Boy, dog poop? That stinks!” 

In other words, “How are you?” was once a real question.

Today when I’m out walking my dog, and someone walks up and says, “How are you doing?” they keep walking. What they really mean is “I’m just being nice – Do not even think about talking to me.”

So I respond with “How are you doing?” And I keep walking. Then I tell my dog how I am. 

I haven’t seen Carrie Peterson since the 70’s, but I have a feeling she started the whole thing.

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