Sunday, February 23, 2020

Shalom Yisrael Needs Your Help


Eleven years ago Gilda and I joined an amazing group of volunteers, Shalom Yisrael of Westchester. For more than 30 years Shalom Yisrael has been dedicated to building bridges between Israeli and American Jews. Each year since we began our association with Shalom Yisrael in 2010, the organization has brought eight Israeli women to America for much deserved rest and relaxation. Much deserved because they are involved in professional and volunteer work in their communities along the dangerous borders with the Gaza Strip and Southern Lebanon. They have been social workers, educators and healthcare professionals who often are first responders when terror or tragedy strikes. 

This year our eight guests reside in the northern region of Israel, within easy range of Hezbollah rockets. They have devoted decades to easing the tensions and burdens of their neighbors, both Jewish and Arab. 

Our guests will arrive April 26 and depart May 3. During their time in New York, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia,  they will visit Jewish day schools in as well as senior centers, cultural institutions and social welfare organizations. They will be hosted by volunteer families.

The Shalom Yisrael program costs more than $25,000 each year. Funding is solely by tax deductible contribution. All of our workers and host families are volunteers. No one is paid for their efforts. 

If you would like to help provide a once in a lifetime experience for these deserving women, please click on the link to our GoFundMe page: 


Monday, February 17, 2020

Democrats Fail the Ivory Soap Purity Test

Bernie Sanders is a socialist who flies around the country in private jets. While head of the Senate Judiciary Committee Joe Biden let Clarence Thomas become a Supreme Court justice and helped pass criminal laws that incarcerated too many minority men. Amy Klobuchar is a woman hiding a mean temper behind a Midwestern aw-shucks smile. Elizabeth Warren is too wonky.  Apart from being gay, Pete Buttigieg’s two terms as mayor of South Bend, Ind., is too, too trivial to qualify for the presidency and lacking in solid relations with minorities. Tom Steyer has even less experience in public office and we’ve seen how that can impair performance as president. Michael Bloomberg failed as mayor of all the people—read that, minorities—of New York City. Besides, who wants another president who always believes he knows best.

There you have it. Not one Democratic candidate for president passes the Ivory Soap purity test. If you want perfection, just hitch your phone line to the progenitor of the “perfect” phone call to the president of Ukraine. Let’s call off the election right now and cede the Oval Office in perpetuity to The Donald and his offspring, for surely the perfectionist-in-chief dreams each night of surpassing the Kennedys, the Bushes, the Clintons, and, if he knew any history, the Adamses, for spawning political dynasties.

I am tired, as Pearl Bailey used to drawl (google her if you don't know who she was), so tired of pundits who cast doubt on a candidate’s purity when the most tainted incumbent in our history feels empowered to hollow out constitutional rights and governmental and social norms.

I am all for vetting records. But the past is no surety of future behavior, though Donald Trump’s record would argue the opposite. Trump was bigoted as a real estate developer—his actions on immigration, his comments on blacks, Hispanics, Africans and Moslems reveal his bigotry has not left his body.

Unlike Bloomberg, Trump has not apologized for mistakes such as his belief that the Central Park Five raped a jogger. He called for their execution. Even after they were exonerated years later Trump maintained they were guilty.

Given a choice between the “perfect” Trump and any of the remaining imperfect Democrats, do you really want the former?

Now, single issue voters might. Right to Lifers. Israel right or wrong voters. One percenters. Isolationists.  Anti-immigrants.

The character of our country was molded in our ability to transform from a closed to a more universal culture.

Like animals that eat their young Democrats are devouring young and old contenders. Men and women. Straight and gay. Liberal, moderate or progressive.

The attacks on Bloomberg have been particularly virulent. Here’s a sampling of anti-Mike venom:




Sharpened knives will be out in force Wednesday night as the candidates debate in Nevada whether Bloomberg appears on the podium or not.

There is nothing wrong with vetting a candidate, but seriously, people of the Democratic party, remember who the ultimate foe is. The state primary program is intended to expose the efficacy of and affinity toward campaign platforms. It is not meant to attack and expose a candidate’s failure to attain purity.

No one, no one can measure up to the idealized candidate.

Not even George Washington is safe from criticism. In time for his birthday February 22, a revisionist take on our first president has hit the bookstands. Suffice to say, he didn't chop down that cherry tree (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8008559/amp/George-Washington-illiterate-LIAR-cheated-way-new-biography-claims.html).

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Sweet Dreams: Saving on Meds, Selling Unwanted Furniture


How would you like to save money? Maybe even make a buck or two?

I’m not in the habit of promoting specific companies but will make two exceptions based on personal experience. My reluctance to hype a company perhaps stems from policies in place when I started at Chain Store Age 43 years ago. Back then, writers were forbidden to include in their copy brand names no matter how ubiquitous they might be. Let me illustrate: a “retractable spinning device” was our way of describing a ... yo-yo. Instead of five characters we had to use 25 with two spaces between words. Why? Because yo-yo was a trademark of the Duncan Toys Company and the founder of our company, Arnold D. Friedman, forbade us to include brand names in our articles. After Arnold died the rule was relaxed.  

Cutting Prescription Costs: Recently I received a text message from my AARP-affiliated prescription mail order drug provider. My 90-day supply of Dutasteride (generic for Avodart) was due for a refill. Cost would be $152.30. $609.20 for the year.

So I looked up what Dutasteride would cost on the GoodRx app on my iPhone. After surveying pharmacies near me GoodRx provided five choices, the cheapest of which was at a Stop & Shop supermarket—$28.55 for 90 day supply. $114.20 for the year.

No brainer from which pharmacy I will get my Dutasteride and other drugs IF the cost is lower than AARP’s provider. Gilda and I already selectively use GoodRx for some half a dozen meds (mostly mine). 

GoodRx costs nothing to use. Zero. Nada. Just download the app on your smartphone and input the drug you want, the number of pills, the dosage. When you pick up the Rx show the pharmacist the price quoted on your smartphone. That’s all it takes to save lots of money.

Keep in mind not all of your meds will cost less on GoodRx but it sure pays to compare prices. You don’t have to be a senior citizen to use GoodRx. You just have to want to save money.


Kaiyo Is A Knockout: Old furniture. Wha-dya do with it? Throw it out? Donate it to Habitat for Humanity or some other charity that will pick it up from your home? Sell it on Craig’s List? Give it away on Free Cycle?

Gilda and I found a better way to dispose of our 16-year old leather couch? We sold it on consignment through Kaiyo.com.

This was no ordinary couch. It was an attached sectional with recliners at each end. It fit into a curved wall in our family room. Its longest side measured 132 inches. The short side measured 68 inches. No way Gilda and I were going to be able to move that sucker.

The couch, or sofa if you prefer, was in excellent shape. As luck would have it I saw a Kaiyo truck one day. Its side panels advertised Kaiyo’s service. 

Kaiyo handles good quality used furniture. In our case, I first sent in several pictures of the couch. Kaiyo set up a pick-up date during which an on-site inspection verified the condition of the couch. Had it not passed, Kaiyo would have left empty-handed. No charge. 

Our couch passed. Off it went to the Kaiyo warehouse for further examination and cleaning. On the Kaiyo app I noted how much the couch would be worth. I determined the percentage of the sale price I would receive. Kaiyo set the sale price.  

Our couch sold within two weeks of posting on the Kaiyo Web site, kaiyo.com.

Truth be told, even if it didn’t sell we would have considered our experience a good one as just getting our couch removed from our home was a big, big plus. The $300-plus dollars we made on the sale was a nice bonus. 

For now Kaiyo serves the tri-state New York City metropolitan area and Philadelphia. 


Counting sheep: If you’ve stayed with me this long perhaps you’d also appreciate a sleep tip I read about several weeks ago. Most people I know go to sleep with their eyes closed. I do, too. Most nights.

Sometimes, though, I cannot. So I employ this sleep aid—I go to sleep with my eyes open. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, it works.

Simply stare at an object while in bed. Try not to blink. In no time at all your eyelids will get heavy and close. You’ll fall asleep. I used this trick in the middle of the night yesterday after waking up at 2 am.

Sweet dreams. 

Friday, February 7, 2020

November Election Will Test Nation's Values


It is being hailed as Mitt Romney’s “finest hour.” 

Ten minutes actually, but who’s counting. Unlike Susan Collins of Maine and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Joni Ernst of Iowa who acknowledged Donald Trump tried to force Ukraine to investigate his political rival, Romney realized the action rose to the level of an impeachable offense. Trump’s actions were “as egregious an assault on the Constitution as can be made,” Romney said during his allotted 10 minutes of time explaining his vote to convict Trump of abusing the power of his office. 

Romney acted like a true United States senator loyal to the Constitution and his oath of office to uphold it. The other 52 Republican senators acted like Mafia button men following orders from their capo Mitch McConnell and their don, Donald Trump. They executed their orders without regard to collateral damage inflicted on our democracy and republic. 

It is ironic that the vote to acquit came on the day Kirk Douglas died. Douglas was instrumental in breaking the Hollywood blacklist of screenwriters. His 1960 production of Spartacus identified Dalton Trumbo as the screenwriter, the first time his name, not a pseudonym, appeared in a film credit since the blacklist began in 1947. Cold War fear of communism led to a public crusade against alleged widespread infiltration of the entertainment industry by communists. 

Hollywood moguls turned a blind eye toward the practice of using blacklisted screenwriters whose work was attributed to others. Trumbo, for example, wrote two screenplays that earned Academy Awards for their stand-in writers. 

As long as they were making money the studio heads went along with the public deception. Just like today’s Republican senators go along with Trump’s violations of political norms and, more to the point, the Constitution. 

One wonders how Republican members of the Judiciary Committee, supposedly experts on the Constitution, could uniformly uphold an action that clearly invited a foreign country to interfere in our elections. In addition, they countenanced Trump’s gutting of the powers of the legislative branch to conduct oversight of the administration. 

It is with incremental steps like these that democracy dies. But first, the next stage of abuse—reprisals. Since the Republican Senate impeachment acquittal, Republicans have initiated an investigation of Hunter Biden. The Treasury Department has turned over his tax records to the Senate. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman who testified before the House impeachment inquiry has been advised he will be reassigned away from the White House. Trump’s Homeland Security department has suspended new and renewed applications for New Yorkers to the Global Entry travel program because the state restricts access to its motor vehicle records without a court order. Romney awaits punishment beyond verbal and written harangues from Trump. 

At campaign rallies Trump tries to convince as yet nonbelievers that while they might not like all they see in his presidency they do like looking at the increase in their 401k retirement accounts since he assumed office.

Any politician would do the same, down to the failure to give his predecessor any credit in salvaging the economy and beginning the nation’s longest period of sustained growth.

If Democrats have any hope of supplanting him they will have to plant a different focal point in the voter’s vision—a mirror. Looking at their reflection voters will have to decide if greater economic fortune outweighs a diminished values system. Whether profits trump principles. Are they patriots or profiteers. In the pursuit of political goals, is the means to an end more important than morality?

The Census Bureau reports that only one-third of the work force actually invests in retirement plans. The gap between rich and poor keeps spreading. Socialism is not the answer. But a fairer federal plan that ups the tax on the wealthy would help even out the inequity and pay for needed programs. 

Scapegoating immigrants is not the answer. A sensible, non discriminatory immigration plan would help. 

Affordable healthcare should be available to all. While Trump duplicitously insists he would not eliminate coverage for pre-existing conditions, his Justice Department is fighting in court to do exactly that by eliminating Obamacare.

Trump ignites extremes. The November election will hinge on each and every voter’s value systems. We will find out exactly what kind of nation we are. 


Monday, February 3, 2020

Fact vs. Fiction and Let the Fat Man Sing


Now that the Super Bowl is over, time to get back to the real competition. No, I’m not talking about the Democratic Party primary season which officially gets under way Monday in Iowa. The competition to which I am referring is our ability to parse, fact check actually, Donald Trump’s many pronouncements without getting too discouraged or overwhelmed. 

As they attempt to project a most personally positive story, all politicians skate on the edge of reality whenever they speak or tweet. But more so than any prior year, truth is on the ballot this election. Regrettably, too many of our fellow citizens either do not have the intelligence to discern fiction from fact, or more regrettably, they don’t care. 

I don’t get paid to fact check Trump, but the reporters at AP do, so here’s their commentary on what the fabricator-in-chief had to say over the last week. While reviewing Trump’s words versus AP’s reality check, keep in mind that voters in the Rust Belt states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio will have significant say on who wins in November: 

Car Talk: “TRUMP: ‘We’re going to get a lot more car companies moving in. We have a lot more companies moving in. ... Jobs are coming back, and they’re coming back fast, and they’re coming right here to Michigan. They are coming rapidly. You see what’s going on.’ — remarks in Michigan on Thursday.

“THE FACTS: Automobile manufacturing jobs have not come back fast to Michigan under Trump. They have declined slightly since he took office, according to the Labor Department. 

“Between Trump’s inauguration in January 2017 and the end of last year, auto manufacturing jobs in Michigan declined by 100, to 42,200. Auto-parts jobs grew by 1,300, or just under 1%, to 133,200. No boom has been experienced.

“As for his prediction that many more such jobs are coming, that’s difficult to tell. 

“The three big automakers have altogether announced plans to add over 10,000 jobs in Michigan in coming years. But they’ve also cut or plan to cut thousands of other jobs in the state. 

Dollars and Sense: “TRUMP: ‘The USMCA is the largest, fairest, most balanced and modern trade agreement ever achieved.’ — signing ceremony Wednesday for the United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.

“THE FACTS: It’s not the largest trade deal ever made. It covers the same three countries as before. In contrast, the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations concluded in 1994 created the World Trade Organization and was signed by 123 countries. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found the following year that the WTO’s initial membership accounted for more than 90 percent of global economic output.

“TRUMP: The USMCA ‘will make our blue-collar boom—which is beyond anybody’s expectation—even bigger, stronger, and more extraordinary.’ — signing ceremony Wednesday.

“THE FACTS: There isn’t a boom for blue-collar workers, and few economists expect the trade pact to add much.

“Such workers haven’t done substantially better than everyone else, and some of their gains under Trump have faded in the past year as his trade war hurt manufacturing. The mining and logging industry, for example, which includes oil and gas workers, lost 21,000 jobs last year. Manufacturers have added just 9,000 jobs in the past six months, while the economy as a whole gained more than 1.1 million jobs during that period.

“The U.S. economy is still heavily oriented toward services. While factory jobs have grown, other jobs have grown faster, so manufacturing has slightly shrunk as a proportion of the work force since Trump took office.

“The independent U.S. International Trade Commission estimated last year that the trade pact would create 49,700 jobs in manufacturing and mining over six years, a fraction of 1% of the existing 13.5 million U.S. jobs in factories and mines.”

“TRUMP: ‘More Americans are working today than have ever worked in the history of our country. We’re up to almost 160 million people working. We’ve never even come close to a number like that.’ — signing ceremony Wednesday.

“THE FACTS: Yes, but that’s driven by population growth. A more relevant measure is the proportion of Americans with jobs, and that is still below record highs.

“According to Labor Department data, 61% of people in the United States 16 years and older were working in December. That’s below the all-time high of 64.7% in April 2000.”

The Fat Man Hasn’t Sung Yet: While it is a foregone conclusion that the extorter-in-chief will get a formalized impeachment free pass from the Republican Senate on Wednesday, Democrats should at least try to have Trump censured. Such a vote probably would require just a simple majority to pass, not the two-thirds needed for a guilty finding under impeachment proceedings. 

A censure vote would serve two purposes. It would make each Republican go on record as to their acceptance or not of Trump’s actions in trying to strong-arm Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden and his son Hunter. If passed censure would further bruise Trump’s fragile ego, no doubt prompting some very unpresidential responses that would further erode his standing in the eyes of independents and fence-sitting Republicans.  

Democrats should not fold up their investigation powers, as well. Instead, they should borrow from the Republican playbook—just as the GOP House mounted investigation after investigation (six in all) into Hillary Clinton’s actions after the storming of the Benghazi compound, the Democratically controlled House of Representatives should open up new hearings with a star witness—Lev Parnas. Let him spill out all the dirt he has assembled on Trump and Rudy Giuliani’s sordid plan to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. 

Unlike John Bolton, Trump’s former national security advisor, Parnas never was a federal employee and therefore cannot be muzzled by claims of executive privilege. 

The House might also deem it proper to hold hearings on the state of election security and what the Trump administration has done to ensure no meddling by foreign powers.   



Friday, January 31, 2020

If Not Impeachment, How About Censure?


What can we take away from Trump’s pending impeachment acquittal by the U.S. Senate next Wednesday? That it was a foregone conclusion given the Republican majority? For sure. That it was a flawed indictment by Democrats? Perhaps. That politics—the raw calculus of survival—has overtaken allegiance to the Constitution? Woe to us all, FOR SURE!

How ironic that on a Friday, the last day of creation according to the Bible the Republican Party forever touts as a seminal element of the Founding Fathers’ thinking, Republican Senators voted to kill our constitutional republic. The so called “greatest deliberative body of the world” was too cowed and cowardly to hear what witnesses might reveal about their demigod Trump. Too much revelation to deliberate. 

Acquittal was never really in doubt. We live in too polarized a political climate to have expected anything else given the number required (67) to convict. But to reject the plea to hear relevant witnesses, especially former national security advisor John Bolton who alleges Trump told him aid to Ukraine was tied to its investigation of Joe Biden and his son Hunter, the Republican controlled Senate enabled Americans and the rest of the world to witness the total capitulation of a once-proud political party to the whims and sleaziness of its leader. Truly astonishing.

And shameful. We are not a banana republic. We are much worse, for Republicans will still claim we are a vibrant democracy, even as Trump skewers congressional oversight by disposing checks and balances into the waste basket of history. 

Trump has a history of ruining reputations. From Sean Spicer to Gary Cohen to generals Kelly, McMaster and Mattis, working for Trump has been a sure-fire way to get a reduction in rank for respect. 

Republican senators have gone AWOL on their ethics and conscience. I’ll leave it to Susan B. Glasser of The New Yorker to pronounce judgment on their charade of objectivity, particularly by Lamar Alexander of Tennessee: https://www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-trumps-washington/trump-impeachment-trial-the-senate-can-stop-pretending-now?utm_source=onsite-share&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=onsite-share&utm_brand=the-new-yorker.

Now, some may say talk of the fall of democracy is hyperbole. After all, we have an election in November. The people will get their chance to vote on Trump’s legitimacy and continuation as president.

Really? After we have witnessed Trump openly work to undermine our elections by soliciting foreign government interference, after he questioned the validity of the 2016 results before and after he won, after he has repeatedly lied on small and large matters, after his cult followers in the House and Senate have failed to hold him to the same standards of truth and transparency they demanded of his predecessors, after he has whipsawed any and all critics? An acquitted Trump will have no fear, no boundaries in his pursuit of a second term, or longer.

Time and again Republican senators Friday acknowledged Trump had been “inappropriate” in asking Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his political rival Joe Biden. But inappropriateness does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense, they argued.

How about the next best option, then? Will the Senate vote to censure Trump? That would be a face-saving vote for any senator looking to salvage his or her legacy. But don’t bet on it, as Trump, no doubt, would tar and feather any Republican who voted for censure. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Memories from Holocaust Memorial Day


My grandparents—my father’s parents—Moses and Lina F├╝rsetzer, never made it to Auschwitz. Neither did my Uncle Max. Nor Aunt Klara. Neither did Uncle Willy’s wife and son.

Like almost all the 1,200 Jews of Ottynia in Galicia, in what is now Ukraine but back in 1941 was a small town in Poland, they were taken to a nearby forest and gunned down by Nazis and their local henchmen.

Willy evaded death that day because he already had been hiding in fields and, sometimes, in barns belonging to sympathetic peasants. He hid for some two years until the Russian army liberated the sector at which point he was drafted and sent to Siberia for military training.

In America since January 1939 my father knew nothing of his family’s fate as the few postcards that managed to come from his mother stopped arriving in the mid 1941. The progression of the war can be discerned from their stamps and postmarks. Polish stamps on the first. Russian stamps with CCCP letters on the second reflecting Ottynia’s location in the half of Poland controlled by the Soviet Union as part of the country’s partition with Germany in September 1939. CCCP stamps on the last postcard as well, but a fading postmark of a flying eagle carrying a swastika in its talons conveyed a message of impending doom.

After the war my father reunited with Willy in New York but the two never talked to their American families about what happened in Ottynia. Until one Passover about 30 years ago when my brother Bernie and I videotaped their memories of life in the shtetl and got Willy to recount his harrowing evasion from death.

We have no idea what happened to my mother’s family. Her father, Louis Gerson, perhaps Gershonovitz before being anglicized at Ellis Island, came to New York in 1920. His wife Sarah and their four children—Solomon, Pola, Sylvia (my mother) and Vicky—arrived in 1921. A fourth daughter, Lily, was born in America.

The Gersons came from Lodz, one of Poland’s largest cities. During World War II the Nazis confined Jews from the region in the Lodz ghetto, one of the most populous they established in conquered territories. Hundreds of thousands lived in the ghetto before dying there or being transported to concentration and extermination camps. 

I have no doubt members of the Gerson family were among the dead. My mother and her sisters never talked about it. Louis and Sarah died in 1951 and 1955, respectively.

As I have previously written about our experience at  Auschwitz I had not intended to write anything about the commemoration of the liberation of the death camp 75 years ago Monday (use the search engine at the top of the blog to read past articles about Auschwitz). 

Amidst all the articles on the impeachment trial and international commemorations of the liberation of Auschwitz, perhaps you missed a 5-4 Supreme Court decision that permitted the Trump administration to proceed with a plan to deny green cards to immigrants who might need public benefits like Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers. The plan is being contested in court, but the justices permitted interim implementation (https://nyti.ms/2RTmJPf).

Now Trump’s plan should be an impeachable offense. Not on a legal basis. On a moral one. Trump says he is against chain migration yet that is how his current wife’s parents came here. He is against illegal migrants working here but his resorts and golf courses routinely employ illegals.

 How many of our ancestors would not have been granted entry to America had Trump’s heartless guidelines been in effect when they landed on our shores?

From rags to riches is a foundational American story. Yet Trump’s policies would probably kibosh that ever happening again for an immigrant.

Auschwitz and Holocaust Memorial Day are reminders not only of mankind’s potential bestiality but also of what may transpire when people who have the power to help don’t. When people and governments who could extend comfort and protection don’t. When leaders hide behind conventions of government and do nothing instead of rising to the occasion to show their humanity.