Stay Away From Fifth Avenue

Have you read the Supreme Court’s Ruling about Trump’s Appeal for Immunity? I have. (Plot Spoiler- he got immunity!” ).

It reminds me of mucking stalls, except the horse pucky in this case was denser and sprinkled with esoteric legal references. 

The Roberts Court came to three conclusions: Presidents are immune from criminal prosecution for official duties; they’re sort of immune from sort-of-official duties; and they’re definitely unimmune from unofficial duties.

Well, actually there were four conclusions. They told lower courts to decide which of Trump’s current criminal cases were official, which were sort of official, and which were unofficial. Which will take months, thereby giving Trump the delay he wants. 

The reason they gave for immunizing a President’s official acts was to insure that all Presidents be “vigorous” and “energetic”. 

Whew! God forbid any President be unvigorous or unenergetic. 

I’m sure that will solve Biden’s problem, right?

Oh… and perhaps to reassure us, the statement “The President is not above the law” was repeated several times throughout – in direct conflict with their ruling.

Justice Sotomayor was not reassured. She wrote, if the President “orders the Navy’s Seal Team 6 to assassinate a political rival? Immune. Organizes a military coup to hold onto power? Immune. Takes a bribe in exchange for a pardon? Immune. Immune, immune, immune”.

The concept of a President being above the law is exactly why George Washington turned down the Presidency when he was first asked. He didn’t want to be a king. He didn’t want the US to have a king.

Our government was designed to be permanently out of balance; thus three branches, not two or four. The only leveler has been the requirement that everyone, every single person – rich or poor, powerful or weak – must obey the law. That requirement has kept democracy safe for all of us since the founding. Now one of the three branches, the Supreme Court, has given another branch, the President, permission to break the law. 

Now a President can combine that power with the power to pardon those who break the law on his behalf and… goodbye democracy, hello dictatorship.

The Roberts Court has done more to damage our democracy than any other entity since the beginning of the Republic. Their Citizens United decision took election choice away from the masses and gave it to the wealthy. The Dobbs-Jackson decision took birth choice away from women and gave it to male dominated religions. Now, the Immunity Decision has eliminated equality for all under the law. 

I don’t know if McConnell intended this outcome as he recruited and promoted conservative judges through his 17 years as Senate Leader. I don’t know if Trump made any mafia type deals as he added three conservative Justices to the three already there during his first Presidency.

What I do know is Sotomayor is right.  

And Trump’s brag that he could “stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters” doesn’t sound like horse pucky any more.

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Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve

What Biden could’ve, should’ve, would’ve done, if he had been thinking, was, at the beginning of the debate, told the audience he had “a cold”, “a sore throat”, “I lost my voice” – whatever – and “please bear with me.”

Or…if he had been thinking, he could’ve, should’ve, would’ve simply called in sick. “Hey, I’m on antibiotics and God knows what else, and have pretty much lost my voice. How about rescheduling for next week?” If you and I can do that, so can a President

… Well, that may not have flown.

But what he shouldn’t have done, couldn’t have done, wouldn’t have done if he had any sense was go on LIVE TV in a state so weakened he was bound to make Trump’s 30 lies in just 90 minutes, (not to mention 6th grade sneers and insults) look good.

Granted, Biden snapped back the next day. Granted it was just one TV performance. But boy, was it devastating for Biden fans. Which is a real problem.

Not for Biden fans, for all of us.

Ever since the Kennedy-Nixon Debates, the country has used TV performances to judge our politicians. Interestingly, radio listeners that night thought Nixon won, while TV viewers thought Kennedy won. (Nixon didn’t think he needed makeup because he was so good looking on radio).

It makes you wonder where the country would be if TV performances hadn’t shaped so many elections.

You know one of the least watched TV channels? Congress’ channel, C-Span. You know why? Because it’s boring. TV is a medium of entertainment. 90 per cent of politics, particularly as performed by Presidents, is non-entertainment. It’s boring.

A few examples:

* Endlessly negotiating with other politicians – and being civil – with people you wouldn’t nod to in the street;

*Becoming expert in subjects ranging from nuclear weapons to health care, inflation to immigration, Oligarchs to Evangelicals, Wall Street to Main Street…;

*Learning about all kinds of weaponry, from trench warfare to cyber-warfare;

*Knowing the military, economic, and political capabilities of China, Russia, Taiwan, Israel…well…everywhere;

*Mastering subjects like foreign affairs, foreign cultures, foreign religions…

*Herding cats (otherwise known as dealing with Congress);

*Saying “mother may I?” to secret service agents 24/7, whether it’s taking a walk or going to Europe;

*Never. Ever. Being off-duty (even when you’re sick);

*Having wisdom and experience;

*Through it all maintaining integrity, dignity, and compassion.

TV debates have been fun to watch, well…except for Biden fans this week. But debates only reveal the TV performance side of the candidates. They show very little of how a candidate would actually function as president.

Maybe we should look less at their TV performances and more at their job performances. An elections is, after all, a job application and there’s far more to the job of President than TV performance.

The last thing we want to think about on November 6th is what we would’ve, could’ve, should’ve done with our vote.

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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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