Thank you, Bob and Lou…and Phil…and Angelo!

I ran into Greg Landis last week. I hadn’t seen Greg since he and his older brother Jim closed Landis Restaurant, the best lunch place in Wayne, PA, not to mention the entire Main Line. It was right next to the old library, now a doctor’s office on Lancaster Avenue, which is next to a bank building that has had numerous owners over the decades.

Greg, still horse-country handsome, started up right where we had left off several years ago, when I moved out of the area – arguing politics. This time he didn’t love Biden, whereas years ago, he defended Clinton. He always argues policy and job effectiveness, not culture. So we may vote differently, but still remain friends. 

Novel, huh?

Across Lancaster Avenue from the now boarded Landis’ is D’Amicantonio’s Shoe Store.

Angelo D’Amicantonio, a custom shoe maker, came to Wayne from Italy in 1912. In those days people of means would never build homes on Lancaster Avenue because it was a dirt road populated by immigrant riff raff. With resulting low prices Angelo was able to start a shoe store there in 1932. Angelo’s son, Phil, followed in Angelo’s footsteps (if you’ll pardon the expression – OK, I admit it – a Dad joke). He was followed in turn by his sons, Lou in 1974 and Bob in 1978. You can see photos of Angelo and Phil behind the cash register Lou and Bob work today.

“Now”, notes Bob with a hint of a smile, “these buildings are worth a lot more than those homes.” 

The skills that Angelo brought from Italy and passed down to two generations, have made his store a stalwart of Wayne, PA for 89 years: repairing old shoes, softening the backs of new shoes, fitting the shoes perfectly, choosing manufacturers of high quality, and treating customers like family.

If you go to the mall for a pair of shoes, you may get the same brand and even at a slightly lower price, but you won’t have Bob or Lou to measure your feet perfectly or tell you why one shoe brand is better than another. They won’t fix the lace hook on your shoe, as Lou did for my son (“nah, no charge”), or identify my Plantar Fasciitis and give me inserts that made it go away (“Really, Henry. You gotta take care of that”). 

And I doubt very much that you’ll get a history lesson that puts a smile on your face.

That’s a hallmark of “Mom and Pop” places.

One day, when my kids were little and I was up to my eyeballs in work, I took them to Harrison’s, a small clothing store in Wayne where Lancaster Avenue seperates North Wayne Avenue from South Wayne Avenue. Richard Levy, the owner, found exactly the right clothes for each one, even as he helped other shoppers. On the way out I asked if I could send them in by themselves from time to time and have them charge clothes. 

“Sure”. No hesitation, no credit check, no “who do you know?” For the next 5 years or so, they got clothes and never – not once – came back with crummy clothes, or too many clothes, or ill-fitting clothes. Every time, I would drop in a day or so later and pay the bill. We’d chat. And I’d go back to work. 

Harrison’s and Landis’ are memories now, as are Sweet Daddy’s, Wayne Sporting Goods, and so many other stores that define Wayne, PA and all small towns.  

D’Amicantonio’s is about to join them. After over 40 years of 6 day weeks and no vacations, Bob and Lou are retiring. I asked Lou how they feel. 

“The tough part will be leaving the customers.”

I hope another family owned store will replace them, and not a CVS or Verizon or Wells Fargo or some other chain devoid of heart or soul. I hope the same kind of integrity and devotion three generations of D’Amicantonios gave to Wayne will move into the same building. 

And I hope, if you were lucky enough to know Bob and Lou, Greg and Jim, Richard, or any other owners of small shops in small town America, you’ll be thankful. 

I sure am.

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)

How Manchin and Sinema Beat McAuliffe

It’s the old story of Democrats herding cats vs Republicans walking in lockstep. 

While Democrats dithered and fought over Biden’s “Build Back Better”, Republicans quietly worked together promoting fear of Democrats… (well, Socialists, but that’s what Democrats really are, right?).

Two Democratic Senators and a handful of Democratic House members made Democrats look like the spoiled children they are. 

For weeks, Democrats Manchin and Sinema kept refusing to go along with the other 48 Democrats when 50 votes would have won. They wouldn’t even define what they wanted. And the arguments stretched through the summer like a bad Netflix series: the same inane plot every week. 

Manchin wouldn’t approve improvements slotted for one of the poorest states in the country – his state. He claims his reticence is based on national economic concerns, but it’s really about ego. Sinema, while standing for nothing, tried to wear the mantel of McCain who actually stood for something, all the while collecting huge amounts of Republican money.

For the first time in his life, Manchin, a multi-millionaire holds the rudder of the ship of state and he’s not about to let the crew – or passengers – tell him he can’t steer exactly, precisely, perfectly where he wants to steer. For the first time in her life, Sinema has everyone in the country asking what she wants as she basks in the glory of keeping them all looking for the perfect answer. 

This isn’t just a case of perfect being the enemy of good, it’s a case of perfect and good – even mediocre – being the enemy of narcissism.

Pelosi kept circling the herd, begging and pleading them to go in Biden’s direction. Schumer did everything but prostrate himself before Sinema and Manchin.   

If ever there was proof that members of Congress have one goal in life, to be re-elected, this was it. 

And it has continued for months, slowly and unrelentingly draining the Democratic party of relevance.

As the Virginia Democrats go down in confusion, talking, talking talking – and saying nothing, as Biden limps home from the COP26 Climate Change Summit, weakened by his inability to get things done at home, McConnell and the Republican army, along with Fox News, QAnon, Trump, DeSantis, and others, rub their hands together in anticipation of the 2022 midterms. 

Meanwhile, the climate keeps changing, the homeless keep filling the streets, mothers get no help with their newborns, drug prices make the sick sicker, the infrastructure continues to crumble, children go without care, education continues to slide, the healthcare system continues to spiral, the poor get poorer and the rich don’t care…

All thanks to Democrats doing what they do best: nothing – but talk and talk and talk and talk and….

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)

Why are we so divided?

Is it Trump? Yes.  But he’s simply voiced what many Americans have been feeling for decades.   

Is it Capitalism? Yes, but just the unregulated part. Without regulation, capitalism is the law of the jungle. And the lions are winning. Hedge funds are buying healthcare practices and squeezing them for cash, threatening the health of people across the country. Companies like Comcast, Google, Facebook, which operate like monopolies, are killing the fundamental of capitalism, competition. Bezos came up with a brilliant answer to malls, which had been a brilliant answer to town centers. Now malls are racing town centers to oblivion. For many, Amazon is now the only place to shop.  

Is it Politicians? Yes. But just the corrupt ones… OK, pretty much all of them. “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is time-honored and painfully true today. Politicians focus on getting re-elected, not serving voters.  The Citizens United ruling gave corporations the political rights of individuals.  Their money now swamps our entire political system, wielding more power than their employees, shareholders, or customers combined.

Is it Education? Yes. But primarily in places where there aren’t enough teachers, classrooms, or facilities.  Democracy needs an educated public in order to function. Our schools are failing our students and our democracy.

Is it Financial? Yes. Between 1963 and 2013 the lowest 10% of the country actually lost spending power. In 2006 the top 0.01% averaged nearly 1000 times more income than the bottom 90%. Is Bezos really 1000 times better than his warehouse workers? Guess who wants change and who doesn’t.

Is it Racism? Yes, by almost any metric you choose, from poverty to incarceration to healthcare to education to wealth. And what else but racism explains the recent efforts of Republican legislatures to suppress the Black vote? 

Is that why we are so divided? Yes, all of the above. But they are just symptoms of the divide. The root cause is more fundamental. And it’s been around since before the country was founded. 

It’s our White Christian culture.

The US, as a Southern Evangelical recently opined, was founded by White Christians, people with shared ethnicity and values, who were fleeing European monarchies. They conquered and chased native people off their lands. They imported African slaves. Their progeny over-powered Mexicans and grabbed a huge chunk of Mexico (Texas) in the process, not to mention parts or all of California, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Kansas.

Since the early founding we have prided ourselves in being the “melting pot” of the world, a place where people of all races and religions could live together. In fact, though, the “melting pot” has primarily consisted of White Christians from Europe.  

When the Irish fled the potato famine of the 1800’s and the Italians fled poverty in the early 1900’s, they assimilated reasonably quickly, in no small part because they were White and Christian. When the Jews immigrated after WWII, they faced resistance and still do 75 years later. They may have been white, but they weren’t Christian.

In recent years, more immigrant groups, fleeing other calamities, have arrived. Just as previous immigrant groups have done, many are moving up the ladder of the American Dream and into places of influence and power traditionally held by White Christians. But their skin isn’t white, their eyes aren’t always round, and their religions aren’t always Christian. 

And they’ve met increasing resistance from White Christian traditionalists. You see them at Trump rallies, mostly big bellied, big bearded men, shaking their fists and MAGA hats in angry defiance. But you also see them in more sedate settings, less cartoonish than Trump Land.

What links the two groups? Fear. Sure, some is racial. But most is White Christian’s fear of loss of power – over education, capitalism, finance, politics, and more. In other words: fear of cultural change.

As earlier Americans discovered for themselves, each wave of immigrants brings new ideas, new inventions, new energy to the country. A few examples: Sergey Brin (Russia), Eric Yuan (China), Oscar de la Renta (Dominican Republic), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (India). Moreover, the country needs these new Americans at every level, from farm workers to doctors to entrepreneurs.  

Most of these people may look and sound different, but they are as good at their jobs, as ethical, family oriented, caring, and patriotic, as any Mayflower descendant.  Why? Because they come here, not by accident of birth, but by choice and often at high risk.

The country is actually becoming the melting pot it was supposed to be. 

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)

Why McConnell Is Fighting The Debt Limit Increase

It’s pretty simple, really. And it has nothing to do with money.

So, let’s take the money part first: the debt limit.

Suppose you owe $15,000. You want to pay it off and later buy a new car for $20,000. You ask the bank to increase your credit to $35,000. You’ve always paid on time and have a great job, so the bank says OK.

You’re in a much better position than the US.

If you’re the United States, even though the you’ve never failed to pay your debts, you can’t borrow to buy the car. According to The Treasury Department, the US can only borrow “to meet it’s existing obligations”, what it owes now, not future expenses.

Biden wants to raise the debt limit to pay off existing debt, not to pay for his Build Back Better plan. McConnell has conflated the two, making it seem that Biden wants to raise the debt limit to pay for his plan. That is horse puckey and the Senator from Lincoln’s birth state knows it. The problem is most voters – don’t know it. And McConnell isn’t telling them.

McConnell is no Honest Abe.

The political side is more nuanced, but equally underhanded.  It has nothing to do with borrowing money. It has a lot to do with spending money, specifically who spends it.

Republicans have always been the party of “fiscal responsibility” – not spending money unless really necessary. Then George H. W. Bush went to war in Iraq – without raising taxes to pay for it. That was the first time in the history of the country. The direct costs was $757 billion. Ten years, in 2001 later, his son did the same thing in Afghanistan. Direct costs of that war were $837 billion.  Together, 1.6 trillion.

It’s been OK though. After each war both parties in Congress raised the debt limit.

Then Donald (Who me? Pay back a loan?) Trump reduced taxes on the wealthy. With less tax income for four years, $7 trillion was added to the national debt, raising it to $28.4 trillion. 

Then came the pandemic, and another trillion in debt and growing. So Biden has asked Congress to raise the debt limit to pay off existing debt. 

And hit the McConnell wall. 

Not only will this torpedo everything from military salaries to basic services, it will turn the country into Trumpland, an international deadbeat. We’ll default on our debts for the first time in history. The outcome, even in December, will be catastrophic for us and the rest of the world. So much for the  Christmas spirit.

But that’s OK with McConnell. He’s blaming it all on Biden by presenting the debt limit increase as a combination of past debts and Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan. He thinks that will make Biden look like a spendthrift and persuade most of Congress to kill Biden’s plan.

He’s not telling the truth, though. Let me repeat: The current debt limit is for existing debts only. “Build Back Better” is not an existing debt and not part of the debt limit increase.

Why is McConnell doing this? Because his real worry is that “Build Back Better” will improve everything from healthcare to infrastructure to jobs to childcare. His real worry is that it will correct the economic imbalance in this country, especially in rural, traditionally Republican areas. And, when that happens, what will many of those Republican will do?  Change parties.

On the other hand, if he is successful in throttling the debt limit increase, the country, especially rural Republicans, will be in more distress than ever, which McConnell can then blame on Biden and the Democrats, thereby winning the next election. 

And after that, guess what? McConnell will do exactly what Biden wants to do: flow money into all those rural areas (although not as much – he’s a Republican, after all). Once he does that he and Republicans will be heroes and stay in power.  

For McConnell, it is not about the debt limit. It’s all about the power.

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)

PTSD, DINO’s, The Supreme Court, and 700,000.

In an earlier life, I was one of two members of the “Republican Committee” of Malvern, PA, a town of just under 3,000. Committee people choose candidates for public offices, from local to state to national.  

That was PT – Pre-Trump – when Republicans and Democrats respected each other and were respected by voters.  

Although the seeds were there. When County Republican Committee people met to vote, the outcome was pre-ordained. Most Committee people voted as they were instructed (most – hint hint). It was very disillusioning. 

One time a Democratic Committee friend snuck me into a County Democratic Committee meeting. It was one long night of bloviating. No decisions, just talk, talk, talk, talk… Also very disillusioning.

Sound familiar? The only difference now is PTSD – Post Trump Stress Disorder. The anger and hatred generated by PTSD-ers is now threatening democracy itself.

What we are witnessing from Republicans in Washington and around the country today, from McConnell to Abbot, is the sophisticated and ruthless accumulation and abuse of power.  What we are seeing from Democrats in DC and around the country, from Schumer to Wolf, is brain-numbing debates – like fleas arguing over who owns the dog, as a friend recently put it.

Republicans are all about accumulating power – to the detriment of the country; democrats are all about articulating the intellectually superior argument – to the detriment of the country. 

West Virginia’s Manchin and Arizona’s Sinema are DINO’s – Democrats In Name Only. They’re torpedoing Biden’s entire agenda because they don’t like parts of it; for Manchin, what it does his coal country and cost, for Sinema, cost. Now Progressives and Moderate Democrats in the House are torpedoing it by fighting amongst themselves – spoiled children leaving the playground because they didn’t score all the goals.

It’s sickening.

You know what else is sickening? Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s calling the Court’s recent decision to avoid ruling on the Texas anti-abortion gambit a philosophical choice. Six of the nine justices, including the last three McConnell jammed in, are Catholics, appointed by Republican Presidents. They subscribe to a religious philosophy that prohibits women from positions of power in the church, as well as the power to choose whether to have a baby or not. That’s bias, Judge, bald-faced, philosophical bias. 

Remember Separation of Church and State? Not any more. It’s the Merging of Church and State.

Alito also joined Barrett and Thomas in calling criticism an “unprecedented efforts to intimidate the court.”  Hmmm…Crying foul when criticized… where have I seen that before?…Oh yes, Trump, McConnell, Cruz, Jordan.… 

It’s sickening.

You know what else is sickening? Polls show 58% of Republicans refuse Covid vaccines vs. 15% of Democrats. Republicans have politicized something as apolitical as a vaccine. 

The country just set a new record: over 700,000 people dead from Covid. That’s more than died of the 1918 flu. It’s more than the population of Boston. Vaccines prevent or minimize Covid. That’s the reason for the mandates, whether they’re issued by governments, local restaurants, airlines, or hospitals. Yet these people are afraid of vaccines. They think vaccines don’t work. They think mask and vaccine mandates are unconstitutional. So they attack restaurant workers, flight attendants, health care workers – anyone who requires them to wear masks or prove they’ve had the vaccine.

How many of those 700,000 men, women, and children died because of these “patriots”, who don’t know the difference between freedom and selfishness, who wrap themselves in the Stars and Stripes and give Covid to others? 

I have an idea.  Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s keep them away from the rest of us, but let them refuse masks and shots.  If these people don’t care about giving Covid to others or the consequences of doing that, I don’t care if they give it to themselves or the consequences of doing that.

Think of how healthy that will be for the country.

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)