Friday, January 17, 2020

1-Issue Voting Behind Jews for Trump. How Sad.

A friend forwarded a video said to be trending all over South Florida, in other words, the retirement home of many Jews, key voters in all elections. It’s a video of Cantor Sagee Goldenholz of Temple Beth Shalom of Boca Raton, speaking at the Republican Jewish Coalition gathering last year about why he and others are leaving the Democratic Party and joining the Republican Party (

My takeaway from this video is the speaker is advocating Jews should be 1-issue voters. Vote for the candidate who does the best for Israel, in their eyes. Anything else is irrelevant.

And so, the strong suggestion is that Jewish voters should turn their backs on decades of support for liberal democratic (small l, small d) values. What matters is loyalty to Israel, not to America.

Never mind that Trump wants to remove affordable health care from millions of Americans. Israel won’t be affected.

Never mind that Trump wants to close down Planned Parenthood. Israel won’t be affected.

Never mind that Trump wants to end a woman’s right to choose. Israel won’t be affected.

Never mind that Trump ordered the separation of asylum-seeking families at the border in a move reminiscent of WWII refugees. Israel not affected.

Never mind that Trump gutted environmental regulations. Israel not affected (not yet).

Never mind that Trump abandoned allies in the field. Israel not affected (not yet).

Never mind that Trump speaks to Jews in anti-Semitic tropes. Israel not affected.

Never mind that Trump has denigrated the office of the president and America’s standing in the world. Israel not affected (it has its own leadership issues).

Never mind that Trump abuses the truth almost every time he speaks or tweets. Israel not affected (not yet).

Never mind that Trump’s immigration policies would have kept many Jews from entering the United States had they been in force when they arrived. Israel not affected.

Never mind that Trump has created an atmosphere that has emboldened white nationalists to openly espouse anti-Semitism. Israel not affected.

The list could go on. 

Yes, Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognized annexation of the Golan Heights. Has the rest of the world rushed to congratulate Israel or Trump on the bold moves? Has it saved any lives in Israel. Has it made Israel safer (let’s be honest—no one presumed Israel would ever give up the Golan).

From my vantage point Trump is playing American Jews for suckers. He is trading on good PR actions to woo Jewish voters. But as we have seen with the Kurds, he will abandon friends and allies when he deems it beneficial not to U.S. interests but his own. 

American Jews have every reason to be bi-partisan in their selection of political parties to support. FDR was not a fan of Jews. Neither was Nixon. The State Department, long a Republican stronghold, preferred Arabs over Jews. Most Jewish congressmen and senators aligned with the Democrats. 

An emotional vote is as valid as a reasoned one. If the Jews of South Florida or anywhere want to back Trump because of his support for Israel, so be it. I only hope they balance their decision by the impact a vote for Trump and Republicans in Congress and in their state houses will have on their social security, their health care, the health of the planet, their dedication to civil rights and other issues they have supported and championed for the last 80 or more years. 

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Crouching in the Pews Before Hearing A Voice of Hate Transformed

The Saturday morning service proceeded as expected, no different than countless others that were blessed by the coming of age bat mitzvah ceremony of a well rehearsed, delightful young lady celebrating her thirteenth birthday. She had just finished her recitation of the haftorah, a chanting from the book of First Kings. She stood on the altar as the rabbi praised her poise and accomplishment. Just as the rabbi was about to convey the traditional blessing that God would watch over and protect her, and grant her peace, heart-stopping drama engulfed the sanctuary.

The serenity and solemnity of the service were loudly interrupted by the blare of an electronic alert. This was not a drill. Lockdown procedures should be initiated. Some 400 worshippers slid from their seats to the floor between the pews. Many of them stayed crouched for the near 30 minutes it took for the police to confirm the alarm had been falsely triggered. 

Services resumed where they had been cleaved. More than a few congregants admitted they were scared. Why shouldn’t they be, given recent attacks on Jewish congregations and individual Jews across the country but especially in the greater New York metropolitan area.

The alarm sounded on a morning when the bat mitzvah was not the only reason Jews had gathered. After kiddish, an after prayers light meal and gabfest in the social hall, congregants would reconvene in the sanctuary for the first of three conversations on hatred featuring Derek Black, a former white nationalist now, in his words, “an advocate for anti-racism.” 

Was the alarm merely coincidental or triggered by an attempt by his former comrades to silence him? 

The story of Derek Black has been documented in the book “Rising Out of Hatred” by Eli Saslow, the broad outline of which is, he was born 30 years ago into a leading white nationalist family. His godfather is David Duke. His mother, Duke’s ex-wife, subsequently married his father, Don Black, founder of  Stormfront, a white nationalist, anti-Semitic Internet site. Derek was groomed to assume leadership of the movement. It was only after attending New College in Sarasota, Fla., that Derek experienced a gradual rejection of his parents’ principles which, he said, are based on misinformation and untrue “facts” often preached by tenured professors at white nationalist conferences. Naturally, these professors keep a low profile of their beliefs when not among their racist cohorts. (For a more in-depth article on Derek, here’s a link to a 2016 piece in The Washington Post written by Saslow:

White nationalists, Derek explained, believe multi-cultural societies are failures. They oppose immigration and racial intermarriage, actions they say contribute to “white genocide.” Moreover, their anti-Semitism is founded on the belief that Jews advocate for multi-culturalism.

When white nationalists marched by torch light in Charlottesville, Va., while chanting “Jews will not replace us,” they were decrying Jewish support for immigrants they feared would take the jobs of white Americans. 

At the core of white nationalism is the belief that people of color and Jews are inherently inferior to whites. White nationalists do not believe man-made regulations or behavioral tendencies towards minorities have contributed to racial inequality. Being exposed to truths that undermined the validity of white nationalism scrubbed Derek’s allegiance to the movement his family helped catapult to national attention. That was in 2013. He has since been a vocal adversary. 

Derek is a handsome, preppy looking, strawberry-haired man. Soft spoken. Small featured. It would require a large leap of imagination to visualize him as a storm trooper propelling thoughts of racial intolerance. But it is equally true that intolerance and non physical prejudice may reside in all of our psyches, implanted there by parents, teachers, television and other media, preachers, perhaps not on purpose but surely by their choice of words, subtle actions, casual references to people, places and events. 

Among the takeaways from Saturday at temple were two irrefutable points. No place is a sanctuary any longer from crazed individuals. No synagogue, no church, no mosque, no school. Precautions must be taken. Lock down drills must be practiced.

Second, intolerance flourishes when facts and truths are maligned.

Derek Black was home schooled, a fertile mind willing to absorb the bile his parents planted within him. He was fortunate to encounter a handful of tolerant students at New College who enlightened him and shepherded his transformation. It would be unrealistic to assume many other white nationalists would enjoy the same revelatory experience. 

The struggle for the soul of our country, for any country that harbors factions that advocate discrimination, is long term and can only be waged by adherence to truths based on facts, not biases.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Why Are So Many Stores Closing?

Perhaps you’re wondering why soooo many chain store retailers are closing sooooo many stores, especially after what has been hailed as a gonzo holiday season. To be sure, after every New Year retailers have always pruned deadbeat locations. But the numbers going into the trash bin of history are dizzying. More than 9,000 store units closed last year. A higher number is predicted for 2020 (

The names coming off marquees across the country include some venerable labels: Sears, Kmart, Macy’s, Forever 21, Pier 1 Imports, Gap, Chico’s, Bed Bath & Beyond. Why is the contraction reaching unparalleled heights? Though each chain has its own problems, there are common threads that have unraveled throughout the retail industry.

Start with the fact that in the United States we are overstored (forgive me for not providing actual statistics, but after 32 years covering the retail industry as an editor and publisher of Chain Store Age I am taking retirement privilege and just providing trend analysis. You’ll have to trust I know what I am talking about).

How did we get overstored? No retailer thinks their store is not desired by voracious consumers. So when real estate developers pitched less than A+ locations they signed on the bottom line, sometimes induced to do so as the price of landing a truly A+ spot in a different coveted shopping venue owned or operated by the same developer. The developers, of course, needed those tenants to get their construction loans. Thus, it is no wonder that stores in secondary market are closing and with them secondary market shopping centers.

Everyone wants to blame Amazon and other Internet retailers and before them Walmart, Target, Home Depot and an assortment of big box retailers. Yes, they all contributed to the blacking out of storefronts on Main Streets and in strip centers. They killed off lots of independent merchants and weaker chain stores. As for Internet retailing, it still accounts for just about 15% of all sales.

So what’s behind the tsunami of store closings? Lousy merchandising choices, for one. For apparel and fashion home goods stores, if the wrong stuff is put up for sale customers will stay away in droves. As rents and labor costs are high, the combination with the cost of goods put retailers in a swimming pool of red ink.

Many chain stores have high levels of debt because private equity firms bought them by leveraging retail assets, mostly their leases or the land they owned for their stores, warehouses and distribution centers. When sales fail to meet budget expectations debt payments cannot be met. Suppliers refrain from selling them merchandise because if a company files for Chapter XI bankruptcy protection the law allows creditors to claw back all payments made in the prior 90 days. Suppliers fear being paid pennies on the dollar for their products. That’s why the first clue of a pending bankruptcy filing is insufficient product on shelves or clothing racks.

Failure to keep abreast of state of the art technology and distribution efficiencies are more harbingers of doom. Often it’s because companies did not have the cash flow to make the necessary investments. It’s a melting snowball effect in a red hot competitive industry driven by shoppers who demand instant gratification.

Let’s not overlook the polarization of our population. Not our political divide. The economic bifurcation. The fastest growing retail formats are dollar stores and food discounters like Aldi and Lidl, both European imports, that cater to families on tight budgets. Companies that serve middle income consumers are being squeezed.

Being a high end retailer doesn’t guarantee success. Barneys New York failed because of the aforementioned heavy debt load strapped on it by private equity owners. Toys “R” Us, which knocked off almost all toy competitors, succumbed as well from its private equity debt load. Toys “R” Us was never the price leader. It based its success on being in stock on the most wanted toys. When Walmart and Target matched Toys “R” Us on inventory management the game was lost. Walmart and Target had many more stores than Toys “R” Us in most markets, making it more convenient for shoppers to find what they wanted in their stores. Location, location, location. Three keys to success. Or failure.

Can you still make it in retailing? A resounding, emphatic, YES! Required are merchandise tailored to a specific audience; systems that provide seamless customer fulfillment and support; dedicated, driven staff from the top down; sufficient capital, and even more capital; savvy marketing including an Internet presence; and those historical three keys—location, location, location.

Successful retailers make customers their unpaid promoters. Think Trader Joe’s or The Container Store. A successful retailer would be missed if it closed its doors, missed not because it was nearby or a long time presence in a community, but rather because it brought excitement and fulfillment to the often mundane task of buying and selling everyday goods and services plus the occasional frills that make shopping essential and enjoyable.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Three Plans to Solve Vexing Issues

I’ve got three game-changing plans to solve vexing issues of the day. They require some tweaking before implementation, but I have every confidence they would be successful.

Plan 1—Control the incendiary impact of social media on politics.

No one can seriously dispute the fact that social media has been infiltrated by agents hoping to sabotage our free and open elections (as well as those in other democratic countries). The challenge is how to contain the spread of misinformation and disinformation. 

Israel, for example, stops all television political advertising 24-48 hours before citizens vote. 

We could and should do better. 

We should impose a 30-day (or longer) pre-election moratorium on any electronic political advertising, commentary, or tweeting punishable by a mandatory 90-day jail sentence for offenders, even presidents.  

Also, companies that have Internet platforms would face double scrutiny and punishment—all their C-level executives would face jail time for any infractions. A company itself would be fined $1 million for a first infraction; fines would double for each subsequent violation. 

These penalties surely would get the attention of corporate officers. 

Yes, First Amendment zealots would condemn this restraint on speech, but the future of our democracy depends on keeping our political dialogue honest and domestic. 

Plan 2—Simplify the democratic socialism vs. capitalism debate.

Trumpers say Democrats are trying to impose socialism on our country, even as they carry signs that warn politicians to keep their hands off their Social Security checks. 

My plan is a simple one: For those who fear socialism, let them opt out of the services and benefits government provides, such as the aforementioned Social Security, or Medicare, Medicaid, municipal water and sewer systems, public schools, emergency medical and safety services, and public parks and recreational facilities, to name a handful. 

If citizens choose to defer on building their own wells, let them pay exorbitant rates for the convenience of turning on the water tap in their homes. If they call 911, emergency services would first advise them of the cost of sending a police car, ambulance or fire truck to their assistance. Credit card payment upfront before any help would be dispatched. 

I, for one, am tired of hearing people badmouth democratic socialism. It has worked in Scandinavian countries. It can work here. 

The question becomes at what point do people shift from a totally capitalist mentality to one that embraces the ideal that it is in the common good and welfare for all of our residents (yes, illegals as well) to be healthy and capable of contributing to society and paying taxes (which many illegals do. BTW, I am not advocating for illegal immigration, but am just recognizing the reality of their presence).

Anti-democratic socialists fear rich citizens and corporations would have to give up some of their wealth. I know, it would be a burden on billionaires and mega-millionaires to own only two or three mansions and yachts. But I am confident they would find the moxie to live through any discomfort. Similarly, corporations should lose the ability to earn millions without having to pay federal taxes. They are, after all, availing themselves of the benefits our government is providing, such as safe and secure borders. 

Plan 3—Contain anti-Semitism and BDS activists.

Anti-Semitism has been around for more than 2,000 years. Whether it be fueled by religious intolerance, economic insecurity, scapegoating, fear of the different or just plain old fashioned ignorance, anti-Semitism is like the cockroach—it resists eradication. 

BDS is a cancer. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is but another manifestation of anti-Semitism, cloaked in an anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian manifesto. 

My solution (incapable of being implemented but I can dream) is that people who are anti-Semites or who support BDS should not be able to benefit from any invention or other product/idea that originated from a Jewish mind or in Israel. Inventions such as the Salk polio vaccine or the Waze GPS-based navigation app. Or pill-cam colonoscopy screening. 

The list is too exhaustive to reproduce here, but suffice to say everyday life would be far different without the contributions of Jews. And that extends to the arts and entertainment, as well.

Monday, December 23, 2019

A Different Look at Gun Control Laws

Now, don’t take this the wrong way, but is it politically unwise for Democrats to unequivocally support gun control laws? Hear me out—generally, the most vociferous Second Amendment advocates are hard right, militant militia members, crazies who fear they won’t have any guns around to protect themselves from left wing nuts who may take over our government. They claim they need long guns and assault rifles to combat the demise of the republic.

Far fetched, perhaps, but what if they are onto something, only in a bizarro, reverse world? What if it’s right wing conservatives—led by an orange-tinged elected president and his intolerant-Constitution-be-damned cronies—who want to strip the populace of rights after rights and liberties after liberties, leaving just leftists who want to save America? How could the left offer resistance if their right to bear powerful arms was denied them?

I’m not saying it’s going to happen, that we should all march down to our local guns and ammo store to stock up, but you have to admit, if you’re a progressive thinker, it could. Of course, we could negate the possibility by voting the orangutan out of office November 3.

So there you have it—either mark off the Democratic candidate (whomever he or she may be) on your electronic ballot, or pull down the Democratic lever on your manual voting machine, or register for firearms instruction at your local shooting range before it’s too late. America’s future is in your hands. 

(In case some of you didn’t realize it, what you have just read is a piece of satire.)

Classified Material: I opened the Sunday New York Times to find something rarely seen over the last decade or longer: pages of classified ads. Advertisements for jobs ranging from an advisory consultant at an accounting firm to vice president of a bank. Two and a half pages in tiny agate type. 

Now, the volume was nothing like it used to be, pre-Internet. It wasn’t a separate section. The ads were tucked into the back pages of the SportsSunday section. But just as Web-based retailers are opening brick and mortar stores, perhaps we are at the dawn of a rekindled age of newspaper classified ads.

I have a soft spot for “help wanted” ads in print. Between jobs back in early 1977 I answered a classified ad in The Times. We were living in New Haven. Gilda had said she would relocate anywhere but New York, but four months into my unemployment she consented to my responding to the ad. She further agreed to return to New York after a job offer was extended during my interview in Manhattan. Thus began my 32 year career with Lebhar-Friedman, publisher of Nation’s Restaurant News (my first year’s assignment as a field editor) and Chain Store Age for the remainder of my tenure. 

Section By Section: Not everyone reads the Sunday Times page by page, section by section. I surely don’t.

So this item is for those who offhandedly toss the SundayStyles section into the discard pile. Take a moment to read how the spirit of the holiday season in Washington has become another victim of the polarized political climate in the nation’s capital. It’s a humorous if not nostalgic remembrance of better, bygone days (

Gilda’s New Nickname: I have a new nickname for Gilda—Corduroy. Not the fabric. Rather, the winsome Teddy Bear now considered a classic children’s book character. 

In the second book of the series originated by Don Sussman, Corduroy notices his green corduroy overalls lack a pocket. His escapades at a laundromat endeavoring to find a pocket is a warm-hearted adventure tale that ends with Lise, his young owner, sewing some plaid material into a pocket on his right overall leg.

Around our house Gilda often wears sweat pants. Some have pockets. The ones that don’t, however, have continually frustrated her ability to keep her cell phone nearby. Until she recalled the story “A Pocket for Corduroy.”

For several hours Friday she rummaged through leftover fabric swatches, picking out a grey plaid pattern with enough material to adorn two sweat pants with pockets deep enough to hold an iPhone. Just like Corduroy’s, the pockets are angled on the right pants leg.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Personal Days Tied Into Historic Days

I number about a dozen and a half dates as important milestones in my life. Birthdays and anniversaries of family members account for most of them. Today, for example, December 16, is special as it marks the day Ellie was born in 1981. Next month, on January 28, Gilda and I will celebrate our 47th wedding anniversary.

December 16. Separated by 44 days from January 28.

Until I read the accompanying linked article I had not realized those dates were forever tied into one of the penultimate battles of World War II. On December 16 the German army launched a counteroffensive against Allied forces in Belgium and Luxembourg. It became known as the Battle of the Bulge. The battle, which resulted in a crucial victory for the Allies in the snow covered cold terrain, is said to have concluded on January 28 (

I’m sure most of you could find significant events on your milestone dates (for years I used to reference my March 6 birthday as the day the Alamo fell). So take a few moments to research how your lives have intertwined with history.

The Last Word: Exiting a Second Stage production of the “The Underlying Chris” last Thursday night I started a conversation with two women ahead of me. One asked me, “What was the last word of the play?” I did a double take. I was discombobulated for a moment, unable to answer.

It wasn’t that I didn’t know. It was because five days earlier at a Playwright Horizons production of “The Thin Place” I had uttered the last word of the play from my front row seat in the audience ( Could these ladies, strangers to me, have witnessed my off-Broadway acting debut? No, they were not there. I shortly regained my composure and to their amusement explained my momentary dumbfoundedness.

Front Row Events: My brush with stardom was the latest in front row happenings. At another Playwrights Horizons production at which I again was sitting in the first row, an actor with excellent elocution but unrestrained expectoration showered me with, er, spittle.

Some 50 years ago, during a Broadway performance of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” Rosencrantz, or was it Guildenstern, tumbled off the stage and landed in my lap. I quickly eased him back onto the stage with nary a thank you from Rosencrantz, or Guildenstern.

I, on the other hand, apologized to Dick Kniss, the long-time bass player of Peter, Paul and Mary. During a concert in Saratoga Springs, also some 50 years ago, from my front row seat I made eye contact with him and caused him to miss a beat in one of the songs. As I had a college newspaper press pass at the time I managed to go backstage after the concert and expressed my regrets.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

A Voting Choice for Patriots: Live Under Authoritarian Rule or Constitutional Law

(Editor’s note: Some articles can be written days, weeks, months before an actual event occurs. This is one of them.)

And so, after years of investigation by an independent counsel, impeachment by a Democratic controlled House of Representatives and acquittal by a Republican controlled Senate, Donald Trump’s future, nay America’s future, will finally be decided November 3 by the people. John Q. and Jane Public finally will be given the opportunity to express their values over and above what they registered in the 2018 congressional elections.

Will they vote for the founding principles of the greatest land on earth, or will they choose to reward an egotistical autocracy because the economy jumpstarted by Barack Obama continued to surge under Trump? Equally important, will they vote at all, or will they take their freedoms for granted even as they are slowly but inexorably whittled away? 

There is no denying more people are working (though the type of jobs they have often are not the high wage ones that instill financial security); the stock market flirts with record after record highs (though the benefit accrued from such heady heights is limited to the already well-off); corporations have reported top flight earnings (though they did not reward their employees with higher pay and they did not widely invest in capital expansion).

It is also true that the national debt has soared, tax revenue has shrunk, air and water quality has deteriorated because of reduced or eliminated environmental safeguards, and consumer protections have been watered down.

The gap between the haves and have-nots has widened.

The gap between truth and falsehoods is now a chasm dug deeper every day by a huckster-president and his sycophantic followers.

Will the public at large acquiesce to Mitch McConnell’s transformation of the Senate from “the world’s greatest deliberative body” into a “chamber of death” where forward-thinking legislation passed in the House dies upon arrival, without even the courtesy of debate?

The Democratic standard bearer (regardless of who it will be) surely is not the favorite of many party faithful. But if we have learned anything from past elections, when Democrats splintered their votes to whimsical third party candidates or simply chose not to vote at all, it is that every ballot counts. Democrats must bury the hatchet in Trump, not in their own party’s back. Trump became president because he won three key states—Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania—by less than 80,000 votes. His claim of a mandate was hyperbole, but it still allowed him to appoint two conservative Supreme Court judges while packing lower federal courts with equally regressive jurists.

It is often said voting is everyone’s patriotic duty. A patriot puts the country’s interests above their own. A patriot looks beyond personal financial gain, focusing instead on the government’s capacity to lift the downtrodden from educational and fiscal poverty. A patriot invests in the industry and defense of the nation while recognizing the obligation of America to act fairly as part of the family of nations. A patriot cherishes the values enshrined in our Constitution and does not accept the notion that a president can be above the law, that a president becomes our sovereign. A patriot believes in a viable, legitimate checks and balances system of executive, legislative and judicial bodies of government.

We have already witnessed the abandonment of principles by party poobahs cowed by fear or enraptured by allegiance to a false messiah. Trump’s coterie in Washington and capitals across the land is based on their lust for power and the monetary bounty that can be reaped from political office.

To what end has he corrupted the values of America’s citizenry? Will they recall the civics lessons of their youth on the choices made by our Founding Fathers to reject authoritarian rule in favor of living under a nation of laws equally applied, even to our highest official?

A patriot votes. Here’s hoping patriots come out in droves November 3.