Tuesday, November 12, 2019

News of the Day and Tomorrow: Nikki Haley, Trees, Thanksgiving and Black Friday


Profile in Discouragement: Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley appeared Sunday on CBS Sunday Morning. In a segment of the interview conducted by Norah O’Donnell about the impeachment inquiry, Haley said, “The biggest thing that bothers me is the American people should decide this. Why do we have a bunch of people in Congress making this decision?”

For a public figure who many are touting as a future Republican presidential candidate, the former South Carolina governor demonstrated a naive understanding of government. Haley should realize that senators and representatives are sent to Washington not just to rubber stamp their state’s voter preferences or to blithely rubber stamp or reject a president’s agenda, but also to be leaders, to exhibit profiles in courage by supporting positions that are good for the country even if they are not compatible with the narrow interests of their respective electorates or political parties. They, after all, swore an oath of allegiance to the Constitution. No such avowal is required of the general population, though newly enfranchised citizens and members of the armed services swear their allegiance to our country.

Moreover, to follow through on Haley’s premise, surveys have shown a sizable majority of Americans believe in compulsory background checks before a gun may be purchased. Similarly, other gun control measures are majority-favored. Yet Republicans continue to refrain from enacting any such proposals. 

Taken a step further, what Haley seems to be endorsing is the supreme executive, a president who really does not require any other branch of government. His or her way or the highway for anyone who disagrees with the chief executive. 

The impeachment proceedings and a Senate trial will show in startling relief just how far Republicans have subsumed their allegiance to the Constitution in favor of service to a president who has obstructed justice and encouraged foreign interference in our “free” elections. 

Later in the interview Haley acknowledged that Donald Trump’s verbal assaults on four first term congresswomen, telling them to go back to their own countries even though they are all U.S. citizens, was unbecoming from a president. But she defended his actions, saying of the representatives categorized by Trump as “the squad,” “Don’t bash America over and over again and not do something to try and fix it.” 

Huh? Has she not been keeping abreast of policy initiatives they have put forward? I don’t agree with all of their proposals but clearly they have been trying to do something to improve our country.


Tree Time: Last week a Norway Spruce from upstate New York started its travel to Manhattan for its crowning as the annual Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center. The tree will be festooned with appropriate decorations—some 50,000 lights— in time for a December 4 unveiling on live television. 

Gilda and I are “big tree” fans, and by that I mean we really like trees, especially big trees. Our favorite is a copper beech, or mostly any beech variety. 

One of our more interesting days while visiting Scotland recently was a visit to Dawyck Botanic Garden, a 65 acre garden and arboreta eight miles south of Peebles. The trees are magnificent, especially the Douglas firs. 

You might be interested to know that the majestic Douglas fir, so common in the Pacific Northwest, is named for a Scottish botanist, David Douglas, who “discovered” them during an 1824-27 expedition. He brought seeds of the Douglas fir and about 10 other conifers back to Britain.

While on the subject of trees, Normandy, France, is known for its apple trees. But the French, at least in Normandy, don’t eat the fruit. Rather, they wait until their particular specie of apple tree drops its fruit. The apples are then gathered and fermented into hard cider. As the climate in Normandy is not conducive to growing grapes for wine, cider with an alcoholic kick makes life très jolie. 


Once an Editor …: I’ve been retired for more than 10 years now from Chain Store Age but my LinkedIn page still attracts onlookers every week. Recently I’ve been inundated by one head hunter organization sending me job opportunities. I’m flattered but not interested.

Perhaps my admirers are impressed that retailers are coming around to my way of thinking, at least when it comes to one of my fervent opinions. About a dozen years ago I editorialized that the madness of Black Friday was demeaning to customers and store employees. As retailers desperately tried to corral more consumers they chose not to wait until Friday morning. Many opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day itself, another intrusion on family get-togethers, particularly for store personnel who had to leave hearth and home to harness hostile shoppers intent on beating anyone in their way to a desired purchase.

It’s not a tidal wave yet, but I am encouraged by the number of chain store companies that will be closed all day on Thanksgiving. Here’s a list of the retailers I am aware of: Army and Air Force Exchange Service, Academy Sports and Outdoors, Ace Hardware, BJ’s, Costco, Hobby Lobby, HomeGoods, Lowe’s, Marshalls, Petco, Sam’s Club, Sierra Trading Post, Stein Mart, T.J. Maxx, True Value. 

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Historic Moments in Berlin, a Personal Perspective


Thirty years ago today, the first cracks in the Berlin Wall appeared. Not cracks in the wall itself, but rather in the restrictions East Germans had in traveling to West Germany. Through a fortuitous, confusing and seemingly uncharacteristically incompetent set of actions by East German officials, unfettered access to and from East Berlin began 30 years ago on November 9 (for an hour by hour playback click on this link: https://mol.im/a/7666435).

Hanging on a wall in my home office is large chunk of the Berlin Wall. Another sizable portion, next to a picture of me chipping away at history, rests on the built-in wall unit of our living room. I wasn’t in Berlin November 9. I didn’t get there until February 16, 1990, a few days before the wall near the Brandenburg Gate was knocked down.

I flew in from Dusseldorf from where I had been attending EuroShop, a once every three year trade exposition devoted to store design and construction. I headed to a Woolworth store (btw, Germans for years thought Woolworth was a home grown company, not an America import), to buy a small chisel and standard-sized hammer. When I arrived at the Wall that rainy and snowy day, I discovered how pitiful my purchases were to the task at hand. I barely made a dent in the reinforced concrete.

Standing next to me was a man with a huge sledgehammer and 30-inch chisel. He was breaking off softball-size or larger chunks. He took pity on me and offered his tools. I still failed to break off pieces larger than a pebble. He pitied me once more. He gave the Wall a few choice whacks for me. I left Berlin with a bagful of souvenirs, most of which I gave away to family, friends and colleagues at work.

My memories of the Berlin Wall are tinged with personal links. November 9 is more than just the date unification of Berlin began. On that date in 1938 the Nazis began a massive pogrom against Jews under their control in Germany, Austria, the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia and the Free City of Danzig. Known as Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass), the assaults continued into Danzig on November 12-13. My father lived in Danzig (now known as Gdansk). He would leave for America within two months. 

February 16, when I visited Berlin in 1990, marked four years since my mother died on that very same date.



Monday, October 28, 2019

Look Past 2020 To See Future of the Republic


While most political views are focused on 2020, a longer lens to 2024 and beyond may be more informative as to the future direction of our republic.

Some never-Trumpers retain a pipe dream that an alternative, such as Bill Weld, Nikki Haley or John Kasich, could wrest the Republican Party presidential nomination from the incumbent, Donald Trump. They are seeking the remnants of the soul of what was once a Grand Old Party. At one time it could be argued, and was, that working with Trump inside the White House and in Congress helped to restrain his excesses. But that argument for too long has not held water. Anyone who continues to take a federal paycheck inside the current administration or is a Republican member of either house of Congress, ostensibly as a public servant, has clearly sold his or her soul. Moreover, those who already abandoned ship should be under a patriotic obligation to reveal on the record Trump’s illegal and unpresidential acts.

Almost any Republican of stature and integrity would be better than Trump not because their domestic social and fiscal policies and international agenda would be markedly different, but rather because they would convey their positions in a more statesmanlike, mature fashion. Abortion rights still would be restricted; conservatives would be nominated for federal court appointments; Iran and North Korea would still be trouble spots; Israel would be favored over Palestinians. But their tone would be better. They would be more appealing to suburban women. They would not be a constant source of lies. A less provocative president would probably have long enough coattails to secure a GOP House and Senate. Democrats would try but mostly fail to influence legislation.

In this Age of Trump, party apparatchiks have sold their souls. At his behest, they have stacked the deck against any inside insurrection. One can hardly blame Trump for doing what comes naturally to almost all incumbents.

The lurking dilemma for the GOP and the nation is, who will win the battle for control of the party come 2024. Will the party look for a Trump protege or will it seek to revert to its traditional policy planks and level-headed leaders? The answer may depend on how much Trump loses by or how much he wins by in 2020 (assuming, of course, he doesn’t declare an emergency if he loses and refuses to accept defeat, and if he wins doesn’t try to repeal the 22nd Amendment limiting terms of office, or simply ignores it).

Trump has shown he is like a dog gnawing on a bone he will not give up. He fixates on a topic, abetted by social media that, regardless of 2020 results, will continue to carry his mean spirited, divisive missives. Win or lose he will defend his legacy to the extreme, making it difficult, but not impossible, for the rational wing of the party to appeal to mainstream Republicans.

Our democracy works best when we have robust dialogue between Democrats and Republicans, when compromise is virtuous and the public welfare is foremost in the minds and actions of our elected and appointed officials. Grifters, incompetents, party hacks, and outright liars have reduced America to a shell of its once internationally-held glory, a status held under Democratic and Republican presidents.

We could return to those halcyon days when our word was our bond, a post-Trump world, but only if enough Republicans reconnect with their souls.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Can Ghermezians' Dream Come Through Again


I was wrong.

Well, not exactly wrong. More like, overly pessimistic about the potential for the Mall of America to fulfill its dream.

Back in September 1992 I editorialized in Chain Store Age the August opening of the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., was a Herculean feat that would be hard pressed to attract at least 40 million visitors a year to achieve its financial goals. At the time, 27 million people lived within a 400 mile radius of the retail and entertainment complex. It was not uncommon for Iowa farmers to travel hundreds of miles to visit the Twin Cities to shop Dayton’s, the local department store. The Mall of America with its indoor amusement park, varied dining and entertainment venues and hundreds of retail stores banked on its uniqueness to draw crowds, especially during harsh northern winters when family recreation options were limited.

Fast forward to 2019. Mall of America’s website affirms the dream has become a reality. It proudly boasts more than 40 million visitors a year.

Now, the people who dreamed up Mall of America, and before that the West Edmonton Mall in Canada—the Ghermezian family of the real estate firm Triple Five Group—have placed another big bet, aptly titled American Dream, that a huge, multi-faceted retail and entertainment complex could transform the New York metropolitan area’s spending patterns. Last week it began a months-long phased opening extravaganza of American Dream in the Meadowlands of New Jersey, in the shadow of MetLife Stadium where the New York Giants and Jets play football and concerts are held. Aside from more than 300 stores (currently not open), American Dream features a water park, ski slope, ice skating rink and an amusement park with a roller coaster (https://nyti.ms/2Nblh8v).

American Dream was not a Ghermezian dream from the outset. Originally named Xanadu, the mall was conceived by The Mills Corporation more than 15 years ago. Repeated financial setbacks stymied construction for Mills and subsequent developers. For more than a decade its semi-completed skeleton was a poster-child example of excess consumerism. The Ghermezians bought the concept in 2011.

They have invested heavily in transportation plans to bring New Yorkers the 10 miles across the Hudson River, one of the most densely traveled paths in the country, be it by bridge or tunnel. Just miles from Newark airport, shuttle buses may take travelers to the mall. Already it is common for foreigners to make excursions to Woodbury Commons, an outlet center some 60 miles north of the airport. American Dream is less than 15 miles from Newark.

Unlike the Mall of America, American Dream has a much larger population pool from which to draw visitors. Attracting the 40 million-plus customers a year the Ghermezians say are needed seems possible, even with the more varied entertainment and shopping options available in the New York metro region. But, more to the point of attaining a solid financial return, American Dream is located in Bergen County which prohibits retail sales on Sunday. It is hard to turn a profit in a location that cannot process retail transactions on one of the busiest shopping days of the week.

Bottom line—American Dream probably won’t turn into a nightmare, but I doubt it will provide contented sleep to the Ghermezians.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Oyez, Oyez, Oyez, The Court Should Now Hear The U.S. House of Representatives v. Donald J. Trump


The time has come to find out if we live in a constitutional republic or in an autocratic state. It is time to go directly to the Supreme Court for a decision on the House of Representatives’ powers of impeachment and whether the executive branch can withhold documents and other evidence the House deems crucial to its investigations. 

By an 8-0 vote in 1974 the Supreme Court ruled Richard Nixon had to turn over secretly recorded White House tapes that ultimately revealed criminal behavior by the president in the Watergate scandal coverup. But that was back then, when respect for the rule of law was central to our political essence, regardless of party. We did not have a president who demeaned courts and judges who disagreed with him. And we did not have a president who openly flouted the law, often doubling down on the very crime he is accused of committing. 

Today’s Supreme Court must decide if the Constitution is still relevant. If a president can stonewall due process. If the Founders’ belief in equal branches of government is an 18th century anachronism or if it remains a document a democratic republic nation can live by. 

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi must give up any hope of White House cooperation for surely Donald Trump has provided no reason or action to maintain that illusion. She must immediately authorize an expedited challenge to the Supreme Court to verify the House’s absolute right to obtain material relevant to its inquiries. The court must reaffirm its 1974 ruling that the claim of executive privilege has limitations when it comes to a legitimate House investigation, that no one, not even the president, is above the law. 

It is counterproductive to waste the nation’s time and patience with thrust and parry politics. The Supreme Court must be asked to accept the challenge and must rule expeditiously. 

Nancy Pelosi, it is your move!


A Red White House: To those who bicker that Democrats are trying to take over a White House they couldn’t win in 2016, let me remind them that a Trump removal would not turn the Oval Office blue. A solidly conservative Republican vice president, Mike Pence, would succeed the dumped Trump. 

In many ways Pence could prove to be more anathema to Democrats as he is more deliberate, more focused, more of an ideologue, more conservative, more religious, more schooled in the ways of governing, and less of a lightning rod than Trump. 


One of the more vexing questions confronting Americans, New Yorkers in particular, is the transformation of Rudy Giuliani from “America’s Mayor” after 9/11 into Trump’s rabid attack dog. 

So, naturally, I was drawn to a New York Times Op-Ed Tuesday with the relevant headline, “What Happened to Rudy Giuliani?”. When I looked at the byline I was more intrigued. I thought the name looked familiar, the uncommon way it spelled Frydman. Hadn’t a Ken Frydman worked on Nation’s Restaurant News, a trade newspaper, shortly after I did some 40 years ago? Sure enough, it was him. 

I checked out his online background discovering Ken not only worked for Giuliani but was actually married by him in a city hall ceremony. For decades Ken carried a picture of the ceremony in his wallet. 

Here was an intimate witness to Rudy’s transformation. So, without further ado, here are two links, the first to the Op-Ed piece, the second to a bio of Ken who has quite an accomplished resume:

What Happened to Rudy Giuliani?

Ken’s bio


Monday, October 7, 2019

A Tribute to Those Who Fought in Normandy


I have been watching war movies almost my entire 70-plus years, one of the earliest I remember being a Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis romp called “At War with the Army,” set in 1944 in a stateside training camp. A sergeant, Martin is chafing at the bit to see real action overseas. As I recall it, by the end of the film he gets his wish and is part of the D-Day invasion. Being a comedy, “At War with the Army” does not relate the fate of Martin’s character. 

The beaches of Normandy, code named Utah and Omaha (for American assault), Sword, Gold and Juno (for Allied forces) are hardly sources for humor, as Gilda and I observed during our recent trip to the battlefields. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, and the ensuing campaign through August 30 to rid Normandy of German forces, more than 53,000 Allied soldiers, sailors, and airmen died in the largest amphibian-based attack in history.

Britain and America treated their dead differently. Britain buried casualties in the soil on which they perished. 

Next of kin of U.S. dead had three options: burial of a deceased where they died, internment in Arlington Cemetery, or burial in a plot back home chosen by the family. Three times the choices were provided the next of kin. After the third time, if the remains were buried overseas, moving them would be at the expense of the next of kin. 

Today’s U.S. military treats the fallen differently. All bodies are returned to America. As Arlington is running out of room, the privilege of burial there is restricted to those awarded military honors.

More than 9,380 gravesites in rows upon rows of white crosses sprinkled with the occasional Jewish star is a solemn, beautiful sight at the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer. A cross or Jewish star were the only religious options. As the saying goes, “There are no atheists in a fox hole.” Nor in American military cemeteries. Nor, apparently, were there any Muslims. If dog tags were not found on a fallen serviceman the grave was marked with a cross. 

Only about 150 white Jewish stars break up the uniform look of white crosses. As many Jewish servicemen removed their dog tags prior to entering combat, it is suspected casualties among them were buried under crosses. A rabbi is painstakingly researching Jewish sounding names on crosses to determine if a change in grave marker is warranted.

The only serviceman buried in the NAC who died without service in the Normandy campaign received presidential dispensation to be laid to rest next to his brother. Quentin Roosevelt, the youngest son of President Theodore Roosevelt, died during World War I, on July 14, 1918. He was a pilot in the Army Air Service shot down in an aerial dogfight. His body was relocated in 1955 to a grave next to his oldest brother, Ted, a brigadier general who died of a heart attack July 12, 1944, weeks after leading the first wave of troops ashore at Utah Beach.  

Last week’s crash in Connecticut of a B-17 Flying Fortress World War II bomber coincided with my viewing a worthy HBO documentary, “The Cold Blue,” aired last D-Day. The film uses outtake footage taken by director William Wyler in 1943 for a morale-building promotional film about the Memphis Belle B-17 and its crew that flew 25 missions. 

Released last year, “The Cold Blue” was directed by Erik Nelson. It intersperses the reminiscences of flight crews (not from the Memphis Belle), now in their 90s, with film shot during missions over Germany and occupied Europe. 

Do the math—more than 70 years ago, the now elderly men were in their low 20s, or younger, when they took to the skies in planes that were not pressurized or heated. At 25,000 feet, with gunports open to the wind, temperature inside was said to be equivalent to the top of Mount Everest, in the minus 20 to minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit range. Frostbite could occur within 10 minutes.

At the beginning of the war, according to the documentary, America had but a few hundred B-17s. By 1945 our wartime arsenal had manufactured 12,731. Close to 5,000 planes were lost in combat over Europe. 

The Flying Fortress was known as a durable aircraft which makes last week’s tragedy all the more sad.


Military Units: As noted at the beginning of this blog, I’ve spent many an hour watching war flicks. But I never quite understood how many soldiers comprised each unit size until Rob Dalessandro, deputy secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission and a retired colonel in the U.S. Army, provided an overview during our recent Smithsonian Journeys trip to Normandy. So, here goes:

Squad. 12 men. Led by a sergeant.
Platoon. 50 men. Led by a lieutenant.
Company. 184 men. Led by a captain.
Battalion. 900 men. Led by a major.
Regiment. 3,200 men. Led by a colonel.
Division. 15,000 men. Led by major general.
Corps. 75,000 men. Led by lieutenant general.
Field Army. 300,000 men. Led by general.
Army Group. 600,00+ men. Led by general.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A Walk in the Park Celebrating God's Creation


Second day Rosh Hashana. Most Jews I know spent Tuesday in synagogues reciting most of the same prayers they did the first day of the New Year’s holiday. Not our family.

Five years ago we decided that a walk through a park was a more intimate and visceral way to celebrate what Jews believe was God’s creation of the earth. It would be more meaningful for our grandchildren (Finley 9, Dagny 7, CJ 4 and Leo 2) and their parents.

We traveled to Ossining at 10:30 am to walk Teatown Lake Reservation’s wooded trail around a lake. The kids picked up acorns and interesting rocks. They observed the occasional caterpillar and turtle in the lake and saw what we assumed were thin tree trunks gnawed down by beaver.

When we stopped for a midway rest we discussed why communing with nature was an appropriate way to honor God’s work. One ritual of Rosh Hashana is a ceremonial casting away of one’s sins by tossing bread into water. As we were not supposed to give food to the wildlife, we instead cast stones into the lake.

At the conclusion of our simple but heartfelt ritual we blew shofar. The kids had plastic ones. Even two-year-old Leo made noise with his horn. I managed quite a few long blasts on our three foot long ram’s horn. I trumpeted several “shevarim,” bursts of three notes, but was windless when it came to “teru’ah,” the staccato nine note sequence. I did blare out a pretty good “teki’ah gedolah,” an extra long call of awakening to the faithful. 

We returned home a little after 1 pm, the same time we would have had we attended services at our temple.