Thursday, September 21, 2023

Reflections on Joe Biden

For the most part I am content with the job Joseph Biden is doing as president. Yet, doubts about his ability to persevere for a full second term keep creeping into my calculus as his stiffness of gait and inappropriate ad-libs undermine my belief he could sustain the energy and mental dexterity required to lead our nation through January 20, 2029 (when I saw that last number, 2029, chills ran down my spine. How about yours? Still, compared to the presumptive Republican nominee, Biden is hands down my optimal choice.)

Which brings me to the question of age limits for politicians. It won’t happen in the near future, definitely not by 2024’s election, but I believe no person should run for office beyond their 75th year. Older pols could be tasked with responsibilities by an elected official, but they themselves should make way for candidates of a younger generation. 

Some advocate for term limits for senators and members of Congress. I do not. Experience is an asset. But once they are beyond their 75th birthday, our national legislators should be savvy enough to know when to gracefully exit the stage. We, and they, should be spared watching them cling to power as their bodies try to cling to normalcy. The specter of and infirm Diane Feinstein, 89, and Mitch McConnell, 80, weigh heavily on Senate watchers. Consider also Bernie Sanders, 81, Benjamin Cardin, 79, Jim Risch, 79, Richard Durbin, 78, and Angus King, 78. 

On the House side, 82-year-old Nancy Pelosi is still sharp as a tack. But the public shouldn’t have to rely on individual representatives to decide their fate. Pelosi was nice enough to cede her leadership position to a younger congressman. Having two-year terms makes it easier for House members to transition.  

Of course, it would take a constitutional amendment for an age limitation to be enacted. Meanwhile, we wait and see.

The competency of age-challenged officials also involves federal judges whose appointments are for life. A 96-year-old judge has been suspended because her colleagues questioned her mental fitness (

In Biden’s case, the discussion also centers on Kamala Harris and her viability as his running mate and potential successor before 2029. 

Since the beginning of the 20th century, there have been 24 vice presidents, eight of whom became president. Four—Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson—ascended to the office upon the death of the president; one, Gerald Ford took over upon Richard Nixon’s resignation. Ford failed to extend his stay in the White House by winning election in his own right, as the four others did. 

Four sought election to the White House directly after serving as vice president. Richard Nixon lost in 1960. Hubert Humphrey lost in 1968. Al Gore lost in 2000. George H.W. Bush won in 1988 (but lost reelection in 1992). 

Four years after leaving the vice presidency, Walter Mondale lost his bid for the presidency (1984), while Biden won his (2020). Nixon waited eight years for success (1968). 

Kamala Harris has led a mostly behind-the-scenes vice presidency. Biden needs her on the ticket to retain support from women and people of color. 

Is she ready, is she prepared to be president? Who knows? We do know that Truman was in the dark about many thinks FDR kept from him, including development of the atomic bomb. But that didn’t stop him from growing into the job and becoming a great president. 

Meanwhile, Joe Biden’s legacy as a strong advocate for tighter gun control legislation may face its greatest challenge with the prosecution of son Hunter Biden for allegedly lying on a federal form to acquire a handgun in 2018 and for being an illegal drug user in possession of the gun. 

Hunter Biden may well challenge the constitutionality of the charges. Given that the conservative Supreme Court has consistently knocked down laws that make it difficult to obtain firearms, the president’s son could be the channel by which drug users and other non violent criminals obtain an easier path to gun ownership. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

San Diego Memories

Have you ever had a possum scamper across your walking path in the hour before midnight?

I have and it spooked me, I am not ashamed to admit. It happened back in 1981 at the Town and Country Resort in San Diego where the discount store industry association was holding its annual executive conference. A short time before the surprisingly nimble and speedy possum startled me I had been schmoozing with the heads of retail chains like Jamesway, Fisher’s Big Wheel, and Zayre, companies no longer in existence, many victims of the retail juggernaut founded by the man who asked me the following: “What did I think of  Price Club?” 

Sam Walton wanted my opinion. One of Sam’s most endearing and egalitarian qualities was his pursuit of knowledge from any and all sources. As editor of Chain Store Age, a magazine he read, he thought I could possibly enlighten him about Price Club, the six-year-old San Diego-based warehouse wholesale club concept developed by Sol Price, a legendary retail entrepreneur. (Price Club eventually merged with Seattle-based Costco.) 

Sam Walton was looking for another vehicle to complement his Walmart discount stores. Price Club intrigued him. 

There were no Price Clubs or any other warehouse wholesale clubs in the east, so I had to sheepishly admit to Sam I had no first hand thoughts about Price Club. Sam, on the other hand, said he was intrigued by the concept. 

I made a point of sneaking into the members’ only Price Club on Morena Boulevard the next day. Ever since Costco opened in the New York area I’ve been an enthusiastic Costco shopper. 

Sam, meanwhile, wasted little time developing his knockoff. Sam’ Club opened two years later. For the last fiscal year ended January 31, 2023, Sam’s Clubs had $84.3 billion in sales from 600 U.S. locations. They produced an operating profit of $1.964 billion. 

Second Time, Baby On Board: My reminiscences about San Diego were prompted by the Sunday wedding of my sister’s daughter Lauren to Ofir in La Jolla just north of San Diego. 

Gilda and I first visited San Diego on vacation in 1978 while she was eight months pregnant with our first born. We returned the following year to attend the annual meeting of the Association of General Merchandise Chains representing companies like Woolworth, TG&Y, and Sprouse-Reitz. 

San Diego proper actually was not the locale of the conference. It was held at the Hotel del Coronado on nearby Coronado Island. A landmark all-wooden hotel opened in 1888, the Del was prominently featured in the classic comedy “Some Like It Hot.”

Every morning while I was conventioneering Gilda and not yet one-year-old Dan would enjoy breakfast on our room’s balcony. On the adjacent balcony a senior couple struck up a conversation. Turned out they were Trudy and Dick Groberg, Dick being newly named the vice president/group publications director of Chain Store Age. Obviously, he approved of spousal attendees at industry conferences. But did his liberalism extend to infants?  

I need not have worried. Gilda and Dan charmed the Grobergs at that conference and subsequent industry gatherings. As to the merits of her attendance at conferences, Gilda more than earned her presence. Over the years Gilda induced more industry contacts for me than I could have managed on my own. 

Third Time, Jewish Geography: A side benefit advertisers in Chain Store Age could access was a market presentation I provided at no charge. That’s how I came to be at the San Diego headquarters of Washington Inventory Service speaking to half a dozen or so executives. I spoke and answered questions for about an hour. 

That evening, responding to how his day went, John Pryor, told his wife Pat Launer he sat through a presentation from someone from New York. Who was he?, she asked. 

Just because you are from New York does not mean you know everyone from there, he replied. She persisted. He very reluctantly said my name which prompted enthusiastic screams from Pat as we had spent six years together at Camp Columbia in Elizaville, NY. 

Pat Launer was a force of nature at camp, a leading lady member of the Columbia Players acting group that staged Saturday night musicals for the staff every other week. Pat turned love of theater into a major part of her working life. She retired last year after 40 years as a theater critic. But she has done so much more, as you can discover by linking to her retirement message:

Pat’s first husband, Dana Launer, shared her enthusiasm for the footlights at Camp Columbia. He opted to work on camp maintenance rather than as a counselor. He’d drive around in the camp owner’s red Jeep, from one fix-it operation to another.

“Operation” was a fitting word, as Dana became a surgeon, specializing in colon and rectal surgery. Dana served two years as chief of staff of Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego. Dana passed away in 2010 


Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Remembering a One-of-a-Kind Friend and Talent

Family simchas, like the one Gilda and I attended in San Diego this past weekend—the marriage of our niece Lauren to Ofir—do not block out other, more somber, life cycle events. 

We heard Saturday morning of the passing of Milton Berwin. I’ve known Milton since the fall of 1978. He was the art director of my publications for close to 20 years. Over the years I worked with many art directors, none who possessed the love of literature Milton did. Moreover, Milt always took the time to read our stories before designing a page. 

In the pre-computer years of page layout, we would work together most afternoons, Milt chewing on an after lunch thin cigar as he held copy galleys in his hand, cutting them, pasting them on a page around a picture of a retail store, mostly interiors to show displays and, most importantly to him, customers to give the scene perspective. 

Never an easy man to get along with—cantankerous would be a mild description of his usual workplace demeanor, prompting one of his subordinates to throw a house iron at him (she missed)—Milton had mellowed, even becoming quite sentimental. 

He would read poetry to his partner of many years, Marianne, as they walked along the Hudson River. To the assembled friends and family at his 85th birthday party, he read the following poem by Robert McCrum:

I have learned, in short, that I am not

Immortal (the fantasy of youth)

and yet,

strangely, in the process I have been renewed

in my understanding of family and, finally,

of the only thing that matters:


Some might think Milt was no longer in his prime. He was, after all, 97, a veteran of World War II including service during the Battle of the Bulge. Yet he was still sharp of mind, funny, acerbic, creative, and only until recently during his near century-old life not a devoted exerciser at home or at the gym. 

Several of his paintings hang in our home, my favorite being a self-portrait that, to me, makes him look like a Portuguese fisherman. I become transfixed whenever I gaze upon it. It will be hard to accept the vibrant person staring back at me is no longer alive.

Sometime the words of another cannot be improved upon. They speak to one’s own thoughts and sentiments. Jay Forbes knew and worked with Milton even longer than I did at Lebhar-Friedman, publisher of Chain Store Age. He wrote to Milton’s decades-long partner Marianne the following tribute: 

“I am so sorry for your loss. Milt was an unforgettable guy in many respects. One of the first people I met when joining L-F, feisty, opinionated, talented, sharp as a tack and a premature curmudgeon at an early age. 

“He lived with an unrestrained passion, irrepressible, even when others carefully hid their feelings and conceded their true selves to conformity.

“I cannot express how wonderful it was to have seen him and yourself last year at that NYC diner, sharing a table with Roy, Walter and his partner and hearing him sing loudly and proudly every stanza of “Sunshine on my Shoulders” between courses while sharing memories of so long ago.

“He was a true original and I am glad someone of your intelligence and grace was able to be there for him as this force of nature slowly submitted to old age and finally succumbed. I know it will be hard for you but such is all our fate as we move down the path. I wish you many more good years and lasting memories.” 

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Selling the Sizzle, Not the Steak

Do you want the sizzle or the steak? 

Restaurateurs, I learned almost 50 years ago when writing for Nation’s Restaurant News, have been counseled that a profitable way to camouflage less than ideal food offerings is to enhance their dramatic presentations. In other words, sell the sizzle, not necessarily the steak. 

If you watched the Republican presidential candidate debate, as I forced myself to do Wednesday night, you were presented a choice of candidates selling populist sizzle with few meaty realities. Oh, you also observed stale beef at the center of the stage in the form of Ron DeSantis who looked like a junior member of a debate team going up against Daniel Webster (sorry, couldn’t resist inserting a reference to the great orator of pre Civil War America, a time many Republican conservatives would like to reimpose on our country). 

Vivek Ramaswamy played his Donald Trump clone (or was that clown) card, spouting populist angst that only the most avid MAGAmite would swallow, including closing down half the government, ending aid to Ukraine and Israel while authorizing seek and destroy missions inside Mexico against drug cartels. Vivek drew the most attacks because he was nasty like Trump and, as an outsider from career politicians surrounding him, represented the most current Trumpian incarnation, which Mike Pence skewered for his lack of governmental experience. Of course, that inexperience didn’t stop Pence from embracing Trump back in 2016, even after the Access Hollywood tape revealed the true inner Trump morality. 

Pence spent most of his time portraying himself as a religious true believer, but his signature moment was recounting his unequivocal allegiance to the Constitution and not Trump when he certified election results on January 6. 

Pence even got Chris Christie to praise his actions that day. Christie seemed the most relaxed of the candidates, and the most disappointed, that Trump was not present to confront. Vivek was an underwhelming substitute for his ire. 

If Pence cloaked himself in religion, Senator Tim Scott invoked the tropism of a Black man owing his success to being raised by a strong mother figure. 

Standing on one leg, so to speak, after suffering an Achilles tendon injury playing basketball earlier in the day, North Dakota governor Doug Burgum seemed like a good vice presidential choice with heartland values that would offset his lack of national experience. 

Nikki Haley stood out not only as the only female but also as a voice of reason in proposing a less extreme approach to abortion restrictions. The former ambassador to the United Nations also attacked Vivek for his rama-ding-dong foreign relations positions. 

Asa Hutchinson, with too many jobs on his resume to include here, though he did manage to mention them whenever he talked, was a voice of calm and reason, though not necessarily truth in advertising. He praised his eight years as governor of Arkansas which ended earlier this year. But based on US News & World Report’s analysis, Arkansas ranked 45th out of 50 states in overall excellence, including 49th for crime and corrections, 43rd for education, 47th for health care and 40th for infrastructure ( 

So much for the candidates. Fox News, on the other hand, picked two patient and professional moderators in Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum. They asked intelligent questions and pointed out when candidates, particularly DeSantis, delivered stump speech responses without answering their specific questions. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

A Jury of His Peers from a Locale He Disdains

Here’s a delicious irony from the indictment of Donald Trump in Washington, DC, federal court:

Citizens of our nation’s capital, denied voting representation in Congress, will constitute a jury of Trump’s peers to assess his guilt or not (again, his “innocence” is not in question; a not guilty verdict means the government [he failed to supplant] failed to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt).  

Trump has been against extending voting representation to DC residents, much less adding the district to the number of states in the Union. He and his Republican cohorts fear, probably rightly so, that such moves would add Democratic members to the House and Senate. 

I am not suggesting jurors will vote guilty as retribution for Trump’s disdain. If the evidence is there they will vote accordingly. 

Speaking of evidence, I don’t know about you but I cannot wait to see the fabricator-in-chief’s promised 100-page document containing proof, real honest to goodness verifiable proof, that he won the 2020 election and is not liable for any illegal action he facilitated in trying to overturn Joseph Biden’s declared victory. Trump says he will release it Monday. But I believe his lawyers will advise against revealing any argument of his innocence that could be  easily refuted by prosecutors in Washington, Florida, Georgia and New York. 

Several recent articles have posited that the prosecution of Trump could have disastrous effects including his reelection as president. Yes, that would be beyond terrible. Disastrous. Tragic. Go ahead, add your own adjective. 

Yes, with each indictment Trump’s polling numbers go up, seemingly assuring him the Republican presidential nomination. But what’s the alternative to prosecution? A precedent-setting acknowledgement that a president is above the law? Surely, anyone who cares about our democratic republic, and who fathoms the threat Trump has posed and still does to its values and even existence, cannot let his transgressions go unchallenged. 

It is not a foregone conclusion Trump will be found guilty in any of the four indictments he faces. But as any caring, supportive parent has told a shy or reluctant offspring not eager to taste a new food or wary about participating in a sport or musical endeavor, “Try it, just try it.” (After typing those words of encouragement I realized it was a serendipitous, apt pun concerning Trump’s legal status.) 

Friday, August 11, 2023

Maui: Paradise Lost

Scenes of the horrific fire that has transformed the idyllic paradise of Maui into an inferno of Dantesque proportions are especially searing to anyone who has been to the Hawaiian island and the historic town of Lahaina, the former capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom in the early 19th century.

Gilda and I visited Maui in April a little more than 30 years ago to attend the annual convention of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.  We mixed business with some pleasure by taking a trip to Lahaina one afternoon. Picturesque, Lahaina’s central attraction was an enormous banyan tree planted in 1873 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the town’s first Protestant mission. 

Banyan trees feature outstretched trunks that spread out horizontally from the central core. Standing 60 feet tall in a square in front of the Old Lahaina Courthouse, Lahaina’s banyan tree’s foliage was consumed by the fire. The main trunk and limbs appear to be charred. Its viability is uncertain. 

At a time when more than 65 people have perished, with scores more expected to be added to the fatality list, it might seem callous to bemoan the loss of a tree. But trees, whether they be Redwoods in California or the annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, convey a sense of permanence and solidity independent of transient conditions like war, pestilence and even fire. 

Far From Boring: Back in 2010 I described Hawaii’s weather as “borrring.”   

“Every day the temperature is 80 degrees, give or take a degree or two.”

During Gilda’s and my second trip to Hawaii, this time in January to visit Ellie during her seven months on Oahu after her college graduation, we listened to the weather report every day. It really was unnecessary, as it never varied: “Sunny, high 80 degrees with chance of scattered afternoon showers.”

Oh, sure, compared to a blizzard back in New York 80 degrees sounded appealing. It surely was a respite from bitter cold and snow. But as a steady daily diet, I’m not sure I could tolerate one season basically 12 months a year.

All that has changed with recent events. I can never again think of Maui as a tropical paradise. 

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Civics Lessons Courtesy of Donald Trump

 And now a word or two in praise of Donald Trump. 

Perhaps no other person in our nation’s history—not Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. or anyone else you might think of—has been as instrumental in providing a national civics lesson, time and time again. 

Think about it. For this exercise, remove from your mind any consideration of guilt or innocence. Just concentrate on what lessons Trump has provided through his involvement over the last eight years in the following areas instrumental to the proper and legal workings of our government:  

The impeachment process

Insurrection charge

Sedition charge

Voter suppression

The peaceful and orderly transition of power

Free speech

Trial by one’s peers

Grand jury proceedings

Election integrity

The Emolument Clause of the Constitution

The Rule of Law

Conspiracy charge

Obstruction charge

Border security

Asylum seeker

The role of state secretaries of state

Presidential pardon power

The role of a special counsel

The role of an independent counsel

The role of deputy attorney general

The role of a special prosecutor

The role of a real-life fixer

Top secret document classifications

The role of the National Archives

The Presidential Records Act 

The electoral certification process

Slates of Electoral College electors

The merging of church and state

Primary and presidential debate decorum

International alliances

White supremacists, Oath Keepers, Proud Boys

We owe a debt of gratitude to Donald Trump for beaming a spotlight on these 31 issues. No doubt there are more that we could be thankful for.