Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Cadillac Man? No, My Father Favored Buicks

Assessing the precarious market position Cadillac finds itself in these days, The New York Times Tuesday described the General Motors car brand as once “the ultimate destination as car owners prospered and moved up from Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Buick to demonstrate their success in life” (

My father was a loyal Buick customer. Every five years or so he would buy another Buick. Yet he, too, succumbed for a short while to the siren call of Cadillac (actually, it was more my mother who pined for a Caddy, but more on that later).

The first car of his I remember was a green Buick, probably a 1950 model. It had an elongated, almost torpedo-like sleek shape. I have few memories of driving in it. In 1955, when shortly before I turned six, Dad bought a blue Buick Special with a white top, a four door sedan with air vents along the front fenders, a Buick trademark. As the youngest of three, I was relegated to the middle rear seat, the one over the drive shaft hump. Many an argument over leg and fanny room broke out with my brother and sister. Dad often threatened to pull over to the side of the highway and spank us if we didn’t stop bickering.

It was in that car that our parents informed us that for the summer of 1956 we would be sent to sleepaway camp for the first time instead of vacationing at Takanassee, a Catskills resort in Fleischmanns, NY. Eight weeks away from our parents. We’d be shipped off to Camp Massad Aleph where our father’s friend’s son summered. My brother Bernie, 11, sister Lee, 9, and I, 7, howled our displeasure. To no avail, and eventual pleasure. 

That car provided Lee with an enduring memory of our father that she related in her eulogy of him. She recounted how one Sunday morning when she was in fourth grade she alone had gone to our Hebrew school’s classes as Bernie was sick and I not yet old enough to be required to attend. While she sat through classes, our father went to a Men’s Club meeting.

“At 12:00 we met and walked to the car, a big Buick. At the time that we had parked, there were no other cars on the street. However, when we returned, the car was now boxed in between two cars. My dad was recovering from a (shoulder) bursitis operation and the strength in his arm was still limited. He attempted to maneuver the non-power steering wheeled car out of the spot. For what seemed an excruciating long time he struggled, groaned, cursed and finally collapsed at the wheel. I was horrified and frightened and in my childish way thought that we would never get out. It was then that he turned to me, with a strange grin on his face, and asked me to help him turn the wheel. My first response was, no. What could I do to help him free us from this impasse? He calmly showed me what I needed to do and together we moved the resistant wheel. Our hands, reaching one over the other, worked for what seemed an eternity to move the wheels and reposition the car. When it finally happened we screamed with joy and laughed and laughed. The whole way back to our home we reviewed what had happened, how we had worked together and how funny it was.”

Dad made sure the next car he bought had power steering. It was a 1961 Buick LeSabre, desert fawn in color. In other words, light tan. Bernie learned to drive on that car. In 1965 it made way for a Buick Electra 225, green with an off-white vinyl top. The car was massive, forcing our father to work magic each night he slipped it inside our narrow garage. He would hug as close as he could to the left side of the garage, then he had to slide across the front bench seat to exit the car from the passenger door. 

I was behind the wheel of that huge Electra—18 feet, 8 inches in length—the first time I drove on the highway, along the New England Thruway as my parents and I made our way up to Orange, Mass., to visit the family of Lee’s roommate the first year she studied in Israel. I remember observing the signs prohibiting trucks and buses from using the left lane. It felt safer driving in the left lane, though my father kept telling me to drive faster. 

When it was time to get a new car, Mom prevailed upon then 58-year-old Dad to trade up to a Caddy, a car more fitting his success as an independent businessman. He settled on a 1970 blue Sedan de Ville, an inch longer than the Electra. Dad seemed self-conscious driving a Cadillac in our row house Brooklyn neighborhood. He divested himself of this dubious distinction in 1975 by returning to his roots with a blue Buick Regal, much like a LeSabre. 

Within a month he talked himself into believing the car, at exactly 18 feet, was too small. So he engineered a three way deal: He would give Gilda and me the Regal, we would hand over our 1969 Buick Skylark to Lucy, one of his loyal employees, and Dad would buy a new Electra. We hated the Regal, as well. Too big for us. We ditched it for a Datsun Sentra hatchback. 

Dad had a few more cars until he stopped driving when he was 82 in 1994, explaining that in his new home near Bernie in Rockville, MD, “the roads don’t know me here.” His last car was a blue Oldsmobile Cutlass. He gave it to our son Dan who had recently passed his driving test. Dan didn’t care that it was an old man’s car. It was wheels, freedom. We soon swapped it out for a more sporty Mazda 323. 

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Jewish Loyalty Should Not Be Questioned

Amid the never-ending fusillade of Trumpifications, it is hard to keep up with the outrage of the moment that requires comment. Perhaps most upsetting to me is the tumulter-in-chief’s assertion that Jewish Americans who vote for Democrats—in other words, any Jew who doesn’t vote for him—are dumb and guilty of disloyalty to America, to Jewish people and to Israel.

For the better part of a year several high school chums and I have engaged in email debate on Trump, Israel, which party to support, and social values in general. It has gotten so intense, at times, that one of the group no longer wants to read my blog or my responses to what I consider some of his outlandish beliefs. 

Recently another fellow theorized that secularism has become the new religion of American Jews who vote Democratic. To which the first one piled on by stating, “Their parents raised their children to be just like any American child. They (many, not all), made sure to speak English at home so the children would not talk like “greenery”. They wanted their children to assimilate into the American culture. Just like the Israelis stoke (sic) the Yemenite children from their parents, the European-born Americans removed their Judaism from their children. Since the parents worshipped FDR, who actually sold out that generation and refused to help the Jews fleeing extermination, the next generation felt they had to uphold their parents’ decision. Many of us woke up and went right; many have remained with the same mindset.

“Trump was right in what he said; the problem was HOW he said it.”

No way I could remain silent after that broadside. I started to type a response: “Secularism seems to be the reason given for Jewish support of Democrats. I guess they identify with civil rights. With labor and union rights. With voting rights. With environmental rights. Not too many Republicans favor those initiatives these days. I guess it didn’t hurt that Truman, a Democrat, recognized Israel. Maybe they didn’t like the fact Eisenhower forced Israel to give back the Sinai in 1956.”

As for blaming FDR for slamming the door on Jewish refugees, it behooves us to look to the proponents of the 1924 immigration bill that restricted immigration from southern and eastern Europe. The sponsors were Congressman Albert Johnson and Senator David Reed. Both were Republicans! Who fought against it? Rep. Emanuel Celler, a Democrat! 

I was about to continue when another high school buddy asked for comments about an article in Tablet magazine on American Jews and whether the Democratic Party is becoming unsalvageable ( 

Here’s what I wrote: 

It is unacceptable what some—some—Democrats are saying and the failure of leadership to strongly admonish them, including removing them from committee assignments. 

That said, a few bad apples will not destroy the Democratic party. Just as McCarthy and Goldwater and Nixon and Agnew and Bush II didnt destroy the Republican party. 

The Israel of today is not the Israel Democrats embraced. As I think about it, it increasingly resembles Republican traits—discrimination against segments of Jewish society (Ethiopians), discrimination against Israeli Arabs, forced expulsion of foreign workers, repression of Palestinians (we can argue if that is justified at least part of the time), efforts by the government (of Bibi Natanyahu) to fear monger votes based on Arab-Israeli voting, actions by Bibi to try to curtail the rule of law by reducing the power of the Supreme Court, cozying up to autocrats and despots. The list could probably be expanded but that’s enough for starters. 

So without denying that Palestinian intransigence is the reason no peace has broken out between the two groups, let’s keep in mind that the Camp David accords were signed when Carter was president. The Oslo accords when Clinton was president. Clinton again for the Camp David summit which Arafat sabotaged. The point is, Democrats have labored hard to broker a deal. 

Trump and before him Bush II unchained Sharon and then Bibi to do as they please. 

Israel today has a public relations problem. It needs to transmit to the world, daily or at least weekly, the following statistics:

*How much food is sent into Gaza assuring no one is starving. 
*How much medical supplies are provided Gaza residents. 
*How many Palestinians are treated in Israeli hospitals and doctors’ offices. 
*How many Palestinian workers from Gaza and West Bank work in Israel. 
*How many Palestinians attend universities in Israel, Gaza and West Bank. 
*Examples of the anti Jewish curriculum taught in Palestinian elementary schools and beyond. 
*How many acts of terrorism are perpetrated throughout Israel daily/weekly/monthly. 
*How many times Palestinians rejected specific peace proposals. 
*How speeches in Arabic are different than what Palestinian leaders say in other languages. 
*How Palestinian newspapers and radio/TV/internet sites portray Israel and Israelis. 
*How the standard of living and employment and education in the West Bank and Gaza compare to those in Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. 

I am sure there are other statistics that would all but eliminate the impression that Israel has been a repressive ruler. To change perceptions this data must be constantly transmitted. Letting the world know about its high tech industry, its agricultural and ecological gains, its scientific and medical advances, etc., will not change the trajectory of opinion on Israel as long as it has the image of a cruel oppressor.  Congressional visits must be targeted at Palestinian actions to show that they live better than under Arab leaders and that it is not Israel that holds them back. 

The American people time and again have supported freedom fighters around the world. The challenge Israel faces is to flip the narrative that the Palestinians seek freedom and Israel doesn't.  

Congresswoman Tlaib and other Democrats are winning the pr war because Israel is losing it by failing to tell its side and because Bibi is doing all he can to stay in office including embracing actions that turn off non orthodox Jews around the world. He is drying up the reservoir of good will Israel has among tribe members. 

So, in short, Democrats don’t want to abandon Israel. They want Israel to live up to the ideals of its founders and the early pr success it had as a country of limitless possibilities for all. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Woodstock, Mona Lisa, Red Squirrels and a Jewish Lament

The closest I got to Woodstock was marrying a woman who had a ticket to the 1969 three day festival but chose not to attend. 

With three of her friends Gilda bought $18 tickets to the transcendental festival after seeing a poster in Greenwich Village near where she worked for Hartz Mountain during the summer between her sophomore and junior years at Brooklyn College. Delores, Karen and Gilda would travel upstate to Bethel, NY, in Barbara’s car as she was the only one with a driver’s license and a car. 

This was nearly a half year before I showed up on Gilda’s radar, or she on mine, so the fact that she was madly infatuated with another young man at the time was not a cause of concern to me. During the summer of 1969 I was enjoying another splendid eight weeks as a division head in a sleepaway camp, Kfar Masada, in Rensselaerville, NY. 

As fate would have it, Gilda’s longing for a date with her heartthrob came to fruition on the same weekend as the Woodstock concert. She chose amour over music, sold her ticket, and bid her friends happy times.

They never made it to Yasgur’s farm. Traffic, overwhelming traffic, kept them and tens of thousands others from reaching their destination. Her friends pulled off Route 17 and found a church to sleep in on the floor. They went home the second day of the concert. 

As you undoubtedly figured out, Gilda’s love interest failed to reciprocate. Our paths crossed, repeatedly, during the next school semester. We began dating in December 1969. Yes, 1969 was a very good year.

Mona Lisa, Mon Amour: August used to be a good time to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. Parisians generally exit the city during August, leaving tourists to contend just with ... tourists. But these days there’s an abundance of tourists—the Louvre attracted a record 10.2 million gawkers last year, way more than any other museum, anywhere—meaning time spent staring at Mona Lisa’s eyes can be no more than the equivalent of a drive-by encounter, especially now that the Leonardo da Vinci portrait has been moved to temporary quarters 

I’ve gazed upon the Mona Lise several times, the first being in August 1966 when I was 17 and visiting Paris for the first time. Accompanied by my cousin’s then husband, a struggling painter who spoke no English while I, despite two years of high school instruction, knew barely enough French to ask which way to the library (“Ou est la bibliotheque”), made my way through hall after hall of the Louvre. No doubt I passed by many works by renowned masters. Sadly, I couldn’t take advantage of my companion’s expert commentary. But as I wandered around the Louvre, mostly oblivious to the treasures before me, he did manage to point out the Venus de Milo standing amidst other statues, and, after I had walked past it, he brought me back to view the Mona Lisa. Back then she was treated like any other painting, hanging nondescriptly on a wall with other works of art. 

Red Scare: I spent more than a few minutes today, I sheepishly admit, entranced by the efforts of a grey squirrel to negotiate around a large inverted plastic funnel designed to prevent the rodent and his brethren from gaining access to the bird food I assiduously hang from trees in my side yard. Most of the time the enterprising squirrel backs away or falls to the ground without clutching the suspended cage holding the desired food. If he is successful, I shoo him away, admonishing him that the food is intended for the feathered, not the bushy tailed. 
The attempted incursion is mild compared to what is going on across the pond. Seems North American grey squirrels have taken over the British landscape and are threatening the existence of native born red squirrels, a more genteel species popularized in children’s books. The reds are about half the size of their trans-Atlantic cousins who are more aggressive food gatherers and who carry a disease the reds cannot withstand. 

It’s gotten so bad that in parts of the United Kingdom bounty hunters have been hired to kill grey squirrels. It’s a scenario a nativist like Donald Trump would embrace to safeguard against an unwanted immigrant horde (https://

Oy, Vey Ist Mir: If you are of a certain age and Jewish, there’s an ethnic ritual your parents practiced on you. Whenever a person of distinction, be he or she an entertainment celebrity, a scientist, a professional athlete, a politician, or any position, even a hoodlum, that brought you into the public eye, your parents would point out if they were Jewish. Younger readers may recognize what I am referring to if they are familiar with Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah song that highlights members of the tribe. 

Of course, not every high profile Jew elicited pangs of pride. Mobster Meyer Lansky was no source of chest thumping, though he did make life difficult for the pro-Nazi German-American Bund before World War II. Neither was Bernie Madoff a short time ago. And Jeffrey Epstein has clouded Jewish skies of late. Oy, the shame of it all. 

I’ve seen too many episodes of Homeland to categorically discount conspiracy theories surrounding how he was able to allegedly commit suicide in a federal lockup. I’m not willing to name whom I think might be behind Epstein’s demise, but I would definitely grill all the security guards at the Manhattan Metropolitan Correctional Center. Someone(s) had to be paid off. The key, as it was in Watergate, “Follow the money.” Someone is going to start spending dollars way beyond their pay grade. It might take years before the urge to splurge surfaces, but it will. It always does. 

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Rantings on Boycotts, Reading Lists, Japan and Tourism

So Mika Brzezinski, co-anchor of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, is boycotting Equinox, SoulCycle and Hudson Yards because Stephen Ross, one of the investors in the projects, is a big-time Trump supporter and is hosting a fundraiser for his re-election in the Hamptons Friday night. 

Really!?! Have we sunk so low in our ability to think for ourselves that we need media celebrities to promote their actions to generate outrage among the masses? It is regrettable we have made newscasters, if indeed Mika fits that identification, into role models upon whose actions we cling (probably because the media is in cahoots with each other to promote their members’ importance). 

I doubt all the newscasts on all broadcast and cable stations have an aggregate audience anywhere near what Walter Cronkite or David Brinkley had 50 years ago. My point is we are imbuing in today’s news personalities status beyond their reach, influence they don’t deserve. 

If we choose to boycott companies whose leaders or silent partners are not to our liking because of their politics, employment practices or social/religious beliefs, many of us wouldn’t shop Walmart or any other store, let alone Amazon, we wouldn’t buy cars or gasoline, log onto Facebook or Twitter, or eat in Chick-fil-A (rated the favorite fast food restaurant by the American Customer Satisfaction Index for the fourth consecutive year). 

Grow up, America. Make up your own mind.

Reading Lists: Brooklyn College is my alma mater. I’m used to getting mail from it, usually fundraising solicitations. So I was bemused to open an email from the school’s Office of the Provost that began, “Dear Faculty,”.  Apparently I have not submitted my “textbook information to the Brooklyn College Online Bookstore” and Fall classes begin in less than three weeks.

Okay, the bottom of the email notes in really small type, “You are receiving this email because you are a member of the Brooklyn College alumni community.” So, I’m on a mailing list. 

Maybe that’s also the reason theteachersnetwork is now following me on Instagram. I’d like to think musings on my blog, Facebook and Twitter provide some educational insight, and my past does include after school Jewish instruction in a Far Rockaway children’s home when I was in college; in-car driver’s ed instruction after I retired from Chain Store Age; volunteer help at the English as Second Language study hall at White Plains High School; and one-to-one sessions with foreign students as part of the Conversation Partners program at Westchester Community College. 

But, no, I never had a formal teaching position, so why Brooklyn College wants my reading list for a course I am not giving is beyond me. 

Update from March 14, 2011: More than a quarter century ago I provided reflections on my family’s visit to Japan, including the following: 

“Japanese women craved more fulfillment and independence. They deferred marriage for careers and, frankly, because the men were immature. The men had four passions: sumo wrestling, playing pachinko (a vertical pinball game), reading comic books and drinking. Delaying marriage contributed to the country’s negative birth rate.

“Women’s status was so stunted that even if the highest executive at a meeting was female she was still expected to serve tea to all the men. Men did not defer to women, or children, when entering an elevator. They would push Gilda, Dan and Ellie aside to scramble in first.”

A recent article in The New York Times affirmed the choices women were making in deferring marriage, sometimes forever, and the impact their decisions are having on the economy ( 

Stay Away: In the wake of recent mass shootings in El Paso, Dayton and Gilroy, several foreign countries and Amnesty International are warning tourists about the dangers of visiting the United States. They’re advising travelers to stay away from crowded areas. 

Which leads me to ask, why bother coming to America is you’re going to limit your visit to desolate parts of North Dakota or Utah?

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Secrets Exposed by The Farewell Span Cultures

“The Farewell,” a new film about extraordinary acts by a family to shield its matriarch from being told she is dying, has received lots of press lately including a piece Thursday by Brian X. Chen, a Chinese-American staff writer of The New York Times ( An underlying premise of the film is that Chinese, or for that matter many East Asian cultures, choose to keep secrets, even tell lies, rather than reveal truths that might be harmful emotionally or physically to the uninformed. 

I cannot dispute the notion but I would not limit silence as a tool to just Eastern Asian cultures. Even after my siblings and I grew up and married our parents kept quiet about health issues, about impending hospital stays. They didn’t want to burden us is how they would explain their silence. 

Perhaps it was an Eastern European thing, as well. Our father’s closest friends all emigrated from the same small town, Ottynia, in Galicia, at various times part of Austria-Hungary, Poland and now Ukraine. Many lost relatives during the Holocaust. During their monthly poker games, wives included, nobody talked about Ottynia. Nobody talked about departed, murdered, family members. They kibitzed about the cards, about business, about everyday life. Nothing about the past. Nothing about Ottynia. 

Was it any different from veterans of the Second World War who kept the horror locked inside military-issue chests stashed in attics, basements or garages until their exploits began surfacing after Tom Brokaw’s revelatory 1998 book, “The Greatest Generation,” released their collective heroism and trauma to a nation grateful but mostly uninformed to the sacrifices they made to protect and secure freedom for peoples around the globe? 

I can think of no example of silence more profound than what transpired between my father and his best friend from Ottynia, Charlie Brooks. Charlie was the youngest of three brothers. Adolph the oldest. Next came Harry. All three with their wives were part of the poker game that floated each month from home to home of the eight or so couples who were regular players. 

Eventually, all but Charlie, his wife Lily and my parents remained alive. They would see each other often. They usually ate dinner, then played cards to pass the evening. 

His voice was loud, a combination of a cement mixer with a bad muffler. Charlie was an effusive, stocky man. Always smiling. Laughing. He always was happy to see me. And Gilda. 

Several weeks before Ellie was born in December 1981 we came with three-year-old Dan to my parents’ home in Brooklyn one Friday evening for a weekend visit. Over dinner we asked about Charlie. 

Matter of factly my mother said Charlie had died. What!?! When!?! 

Right there, at the dinette table at which we were sitting, she dispassionately related. During a card game one Saturday night in August he suffered a heart attack. While they waited for an ambulance my father tried to revive him. He couldn’t. 

Lily never forgave his failure. You have to understand. To many emigres from Ottynia my father was an unquestioned leader of extraordinary talents. It was incomprehensible that Charlie could die in his house at his dinner table. That Kopel could not save him. 

I think my parents were caught up in the complex myth, as well. So they kept Charlie’s passing a secret, to be released only because we asked of him. Gilda and I did not have the opportunity to attend his funeral or make a shiva visit. My parents felt it was better to spare us the immediate sorrow of his death. 

Charlie is buried a few yards from my parents in the communal plot assigned to members of the Ottynier Young Men’s Benevolent Association. 

As is the Jewish custom, each time I visit my parents’ graves I place rocks atop their headstones and those of my father’s brother and his wife. And one on Charlie’s, as well. 

Friday, July 26, 2019

Move If You Want to Save the Republic

Volunteers needed: Who wants to move to Pennsylvania?

Or Michigan? Or Wisconsin? Maybe you would prefer a sunnier clime? Okay. How about Florida or Arizona? 

It is all for a good cause. It doesn’t have to be permanent, but it does require a residential move relatively soon that would appear to be forever but has to last through November 2020. 

If you haven’t figured out my idea yet, then you haven’t read Nate Cohn’s recent analysis in The New York Times that swing states Donald Trump barely won in 2016 may be sliding further into his Electoral College victory column despite an expected national surge in popular votes for the Democratic nominee no matter who she or he may be (

Since Trump won the Electoral College votes of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by a combined 77,744 votes it is simply a matter of realigning residencies for some, okay, many, anti Trump voters from sure-win Democratic states to battleground states to turn them from red to blue. 

So, are you with me? Who enjoys cheese? Who can visualize themselves in the fall wearing a tricornered cheesehead hat cheering on the Green Bay Packers? Forget how cold and snowy Wisconsin can be come December. Your patriotic duty to defend our country should warm the cockles of your heart, even as your fingertips and toes tingle with early stage frostbite (of course, you can buy those glove and sock warmers for the one season you’ll be  exposed to a Wisconsin chill).  

Or maybe you’re a Revolutionary War or Civil War buff and would like to live closer to where the action was, say in Valley Forge or Philadelphia or Gettysburg. See, it’s not as if you have to move away from East Coast civilization to save our democratic republic. You could be happy in Pennsylvania. 

We can’t take anything for granted in 2020. No doubt, Republicans will get wind of this plan and try to pass laws that require at least two years of residency before a newly arrived citizen may vote. Let’s be thankful Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin have Democratic governors who would veto any such legislation because we all know which way the Supreme Court would rule if a court challenge ever reached its once hallowed hall of justice. 

Saving a democracy requires commitment. It won’t be enough to spend a few days in a battleground state canvassing districts or driving seniors to the polls. You have to be like the pig in the old joke about breakfast and the roles played by a chicken and a hog. For a bacon and egg breakfast a chicken must make a contribution. A pig must make a commitment. 

Keep in mind you can return to your posh liberal quarters after November 2020. In the meantime, you could Airbnb or VRBO your home. Saving our republic can be concurrently profitable and patriotic.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Sell the Sizzle, Not the Steak

Robert Mueller’s testimony Wednesday on his investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible conspiracy and obstruction of justice by Donald Trump, his campaign and administration reminded me of one of the first tenets of successful marketing I learned when I started covering retailing back in 1977: 

“Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Presentation, not taste, was more important in restaurants trying to capture consumer acceptance. The concept applies to almost all consumer goods. Watch most automobile ads and you’ll see what I mean. Car ads sell you a feeling, an experience, not an actual product.

Sadly, watching or listening to a 74-year-old man dodder his way through six hours of grueling and grilling testimony, roughly half of which was intended to pierce his patriotic professionalism in defense of our country while his detractors defended a would-be despot, was an exercise so painfully depressing Gilda and I independently had to turn off the broadcasts we were tuned into in separate rooms, she while doing her yoga, I while eating my breakfast. 

Bob Mueller was no 34-year-old John Dean testifying cooly and controlled before Congress about a “cancer” growing on the presidency of Richard Nixon. Of course, most of the country wasn’t alive back in 1973 when Dean testified during the Watergate hearings while his wife Mo (Maureen) sat pertly and stoically behind him, her blonde hair pulled back tightly in a bun. 

The substance of Mueller’s findings were already known from his 448 page report. Anti-Trumpers wanted bold vocal confirmation that obstruction of justice had taken place in the Oval Office, that Russia had compromised the election. They had to settle for a less powerful than hoped for performance. 

Pro-Trumpers—in other words Republicans and the man himself—reveled in the optics. They claimed no verbal knockdown meant they won the day, ignoring Mueller’s assertion his report did not exonerate Trump from a charge of obstruction and that once he left office he could face prosecution. 

For those who didn’t tune in for all six hours of testimony, their take on the proceedings came from their main news outlets. So their views were reinforced. 

Few minds, I would think, changed opinions on the matter. You either like Trump or fear for our republic. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Does Trump Fit The Profile of a Fascist?

Like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s 1964 amorphous description of obscenity (“I know it when I see it”), fascism is a concept much bandied about lately but little understood. It is often invoked to disparage political extremes on the right or left, leaving its true meaning murky. Most people associate fascism with Hitler and Mussolini and they want nothing to do with it. 

Of course, the reality is more imprecise in our application of the epithet “fascist.” Is Donald Trump a fascist or just an ill-spoken nationalist? 

Here, thanks to an article in Haaretz, a liberal Israeli news organization, by Dan Tamir, author of “Hebrew Fascism in Palestine, 1922-1942,” is a critical analysis of the features of fascism ( You can decide if some or all strains of the fascist model have invaded our government: 

“... what is fascism? What sets it apart from other right-wing political streams? In 2004, Robert Paxton, in his book “The Anatomy of Fascism” (disclosure: this writer [Tamir] translated that book into Hebrew), listed seven features that collectively might delineate the nature of fascism as an ideology and as a political practice. They are: 

“certainty in the supremacy of the groupnational, ethnic—over every right of the individual, and the individual’s subordination to the group; 

“belief that the group in question is a victim of other groups, as a consequence of which there is justification for every action taken against its enemies (domestic or external, real or imagined); 

“fear of harm befalling the group from liberal tendencies or ‘foreign’ influences from outside; 

“the need for closer integration of a ‘purer’ national community, whether by agreement or through violence;

“insistence on the group’s right to rule others without any limitations—a right accruing to the group by dint of its singularity or skills; 

“a sense of the existence of a severe crisis, not amenable to any traditional solution; 

“belief in the need for the authority of a lone and solitary leader, and obedience to that leader based on the conviction that he possesses supernatural insights or capabilities.”

Tamir added an eighth characteristic: “Another trait that some would add is fierce opposition to socialism in all its forms—a characteristic that was especially apparent in the practice of fascist movements active in the second half of the 20th century, even if not in their declared ideology.”

I’m not quite ready to declare Trump a fascist but it is troubling to see features of fascism that may be checked off when reviewing his actions. How many would you check off?

Friday, July 19, 2019

Bonding Between Males by Kiss and Hug

Here’s a question intended for just male readers. Do you kiss the adult male members of your family (on the cheek, neck or lips)? Do you kiss your close male friends when greeting them or saying goodbye?

I cannot recall if my father did. I’m sure he kissed me when I was young, but did he continue to show such affection after my bar mitzvah, after I was 13 and presumed a man by Jewish custom? I cannot recall. Neither can my brother or sister.

Hugs. I cannot recall him hugging me as an adult. Bearhugs upon greeting or departing are common among men. They show affection beyond a strong handshake. I don’t recall receiving any bearhugs from my father or his brother, the sole survivor of their immediate family’s annihilation in the Holocaust. I don’t recall ever seeing them hug. Or kiss. Or hug or kiss any of their childhood friends from Ottynia who emigrated to America before and after the Holocaust.

Some years ago, at least a decade I would imagine, I became indoctrinated into the custom of kissing while embracing some of my close friends. It was awkward at first. Like my first time driving on the left side of the road in England. We hug. We kiss each other’s cheek or neck in a much more meaningful manner than the peck on the cheek one dispenses to a female friend. 

I don’t hug and kiss all of my dear male friends. They or I sense it would be awkward. Neither party wants to initiate the exchange. So we shake hands firmly. Or just fist bump. 

It was only after I was initiated into the kissing club that I started to kiss and hug my now 40-year-old son and son-in-law. I sense my son is still a little uncomfortable with it. 

I am sure psychologists or relationship therapists could provide explanations why most men have not embraced the kissing embrace. I won’t insult them by offering my analysis. 

I will, however, strongly suggest this world would be a far better and friendlier place if we all did a lot more fraternal, not sexual, hugging and kissing. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Can "It" Happen Here?

Can “it” happen here?

The “it” is what haunts Jews across America. Could anti-Semitism, always present in the dark corners of our society, grow a public profile acceptable in deed and legal standing? Remembering how integrated and assimilated Jews were in Germany—in commerce and education, in science and medicine, in publishing and the arts, in government and the military—before Hitler’s rise to power, American Jews cannot help but keep in the recesses of their minds the abhorrent thought that this too could, under the direst of circumstances, happen again. Here. To them. 

Where does the slippery slope begin? Remember Pastor Martin Niemöller’s words about the rise of Nazism and the silence of the German populace:

“First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out—
“Because I was not a Socialist.
“Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out—
“Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
“Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out—
“Because I was not a Jew.
“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

We are witnesses today to the marginalization of broad segments of the American population and those who would seek to become part of our country. Hispanics. Blacks. LGBTQ. Muslims. Jews. 

Far fetched? Donald Trump spews racist venom against four Democratic congresswomen and barely a peep of protest is heard from Republican lawmakers. Silence has engulfed the GOP. No longer is it the party of Ronald Reagan who, in his last address to the nation as president stated, “We draw our people, our strength, from every country and every corner of the world.” 

Earlier in his presidency Reagan said, “Illegal immigrants in considerable numbers have become productive members of our society and are a basic part of our work force. Those who have established equities in the United States should be recognized and accorded legal status. At the same time, in so doing, we must not encourage illegal immigration.” 

How far Republicans have drifted from following a leader they all used to admire to following a leader they are afraid will admonish them if they waver. Their silence is overwhelming. How sad they do not harken to the words of Edmund Burke, the late 18th century British conservative: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ... All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent. ... Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”

When a party of great history and tradition becomes one of sycophancy, when it ignores reason and science, danger lurks in the shadows. Remember, National Socialism was a fringe movement in 1920s Germany. Hitler became chancellor after receiving just 37% of the popular vote in 1932. The rest, as they say, is history (look it up if you don’t know how and what happened next). 

I’m not suggesting Trump is a reincarnate of the Little Corporal (Hitler, after all, did not shirk his military obligation). But slippery slopes begin somewhere. After Trump, what excesses will be considered normative behavior?

Consider this: A survey reported in a late June by Haaretz, an Israeli news organization, found “one in five Americans say businesses should be able to refuse service to Jews.”

According to poll results, “24 percent of Republicans, 17 percent of Democrats think small business owners should be allowed to refuse service to Jews based on religious grounds” ( 

Overall, the survey found 19% of Americans thought that way, an increase from the 12% who agreed back in 2014. That’s more than a 50% increase in five years.

The survey of 1,100 adults found increased support for business owners to refuse service to gays and lesbians, transgender people, atheists, Muslims and African Americans.

Trump is part of a march toward an imperial presidency that began in earnest with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (As an aside, it was displayed most comically when Richard Nixon outfitted White House guards in uniforms more associated with European operettas than security professionals ( After the laughter died down Nixon abandoned the wardrobing fiasco.)

The rise in physical and verbal attacks on Jews is part of an overall increase in hate/bias crimes. Paradoxically, it was our first Afro-American president, Barack Obama, who truly ignited it. White supremacists resented his ascendancy to the presidency. Their anger was fueled by Trump’s birther movement. But they didn’t just focus on blacks. Jews have always been part of the white supremacist hate/bias pedigree.

The white supremacist movement crosses international borders.

Speaking recently after a showing of a film on the last surviving prosecutor of Nazis at the post World War II Nuremberg trials, David Harris, CEO of AJC (American Jewish Committee), said anti-Semitism is on the rise because ethno-nationalists feel emboldened for several reasons: The internet is a factor; Witnesses to the Holocaust are dying, so the Holocaust is receding in collective memory; “Who replaced Elie Wiesel?”
Also, students on campus are not afraid of the Far Right but the Far Left is problematic because of its anti-Israel stance, he continued. 
And, said Harris, there is an Islamist problem. Not a problem with Islam. Jewish deaths in Europe are from Jihadists. 

It doesn’t really matter who killed Jews. Or who killed blacks or Hispanics. Or women of any color. When a population genre is singled out for persecution and murder, all of its members, all of society, are vulnerable.

Sen. Kamala Harris said Trump’s comments about the four congresswomen were racist and unAmerican. Racist, for sure. But, unfortunately, our history contains many similar instances of racial bigotry and discrimination, some even ensconced in our founding Constitution and Supreme Court decisions, which makes Trump’s actions prototypically American. 

Demonization has been an integral political strategy in our development as a country. The good news is that we have been able to overcome momentary power grabs by the forces of darkness. November 3, 2020, will define the next phase of our democracy. Will it be progressive or regressive?  

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Underpinning Kamala Harris' Popularity Wave

Turns out I am part of the wave Kamala Harris is surfing towards the lead of Democratic Party presidential hopefuls. 

Right before dinner Monday evening I did something I normally resist: I answered a land line telephone call from a number I didn’t recognize because the screen indicated the caller emanated from New Haven where Gilda and I lived 42 years ago. 

An elderly gentleman—I could tell he was elderly by his slow, raspy voice, his cheerful colloquial demeanor and the way technology challenged him—said he was calling from the Quinnipiac University national poll. 

Having employed consumer researchers for my magazine for more than 30 years, I am a sucker for surveys if they don’t interfere with what I am doing. He caught me at a good time. 

I haven’t chosen a preferred candidate, though I have opined that Joe Biden should be given a chance to strut his stuff to determine if he is 2020 qualified and not stuck in a 20th century time warp. Sadly, last week’s initial debate revealed him to be slow-footed in word and thought. Donald Trump must have been salivating at the prospect of squaring off against him.

On the other hand, Harris followed up on her sharp questioning of Trump Supreme Court nominees with a piercing attack on Biden. For those who later complained that she bushwacked Biden with a well planned foray, I say it showed she would be adept at confronting and countering Trump during a debate (assuming the chicken-in-chief agrees to participate—mark my words, he will at first reject any debates and then, in what he, in his own mind, will consider a majestic concession, will agree to debate three times). I want a candidate who prepares, does homework. Biden’s people had prepped him, but he failed to rise to the occasion. 

So I gave Kamala Harris a vote of confidence, though not an unqualified endorsement as I yet don’t know enough about her.

“A new national Quinnipiac University poll, released Tuesday, July 2, shows Biden, who once led the field by around 20 points, now clinging to a two-point lead over California Sen. Kamala Harris, 22 percent to 20 percent,” The Daily Voice reported. (For you political nerds, follow the link to Quinnipiac's release:

Now, one debate does not a president, or a party nominee, make, or break. But the winds of change are blowing hard, fueled by Trump’s take-no-prisoners stands on immigration and the detention of asylum seekers, census citizenship questions, tariff wars, relations with allies and Russia/North Korea/Iran, climate change and a host of other issues.  

Biden’s early strength came from the Afro-American community and senior citizens. It is dissipating. Biden is a “Yeah, I’m comfortable with him” vote. Harris, on the other hand, will ignite passion among black and hispanic voters, and among old-time liberals. Unless he shows more vigor during subsequent debates Biden would be no match against Trump. Harris has shown herself to be a sharp inquisitor and someone who could hold her own against a man.  

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Be Careful Whom You Trust

Some people are trusting. Perhaps too trusting. 

Take, for example, this recent message on a residential association bulletin board: “We live on XYZ (I redacted the actual street name) and will be travelling during the last two weeks in July and need someone from July 17th through July 29th to come by once a day to feed our cat, take in the mail and water our vegetable garden.”

Hello burglars, or at least those who monitor the Internet for leads on which locations are most vulnerable to easy pickin’. I’ve often wondered why people post pictures of their extended time away from home during their trips. Couldn’t they wait until they returned to make their friends and family envious of their time in the sun or on the slopes? Those postings are open invitations to those with less than socially acceptable behavior to drop by for some extra curricular “play while the cat’s away.” 

In the above cited message, of course, the cat will be home, but it probably is not trained to protect home and hearth. Given today’s Internet-capable ability to hone in on addresses, providing the dates one will be away and the street of one’s home is pretty, oh, let’s just say, it, STUPID!

Oh, one more thing. The person in need of a daily house monitor included their name! Again, STUPID! Why not just leave a key in the front door or, better yet, leave it unlocked?

Am I being paranoid? I don’t think so. What do you think? Are people too trusting for their own good?

Speaking of trusting, Donald Trump’s just completed trip to Japan and Korea, both South and North, if you consider 20 steps inside a corrupt, repressive country a bona fide visit to Kim Jong-Un’s dictatorship, exemplified his foreign policy approach. It is all based on personal appeal. 

George W. Bush thought the same way at first, as when he initially met Vladimir Putin and said he “looked the man in the eye and found him to be straightforward and trustworthy.” Bush said he looked into Putin’s “soul” and believed he could do business with the man, so much so that he trusted him enough to invite him to his ranch. 

Yeah, Putin gave him, America and its allies the “business,” all right. 

Trump believes Putin didn’t interfere in the 2016 election and accepts his word that he will not interfere in the 2020 election. Trump’s security and intelligence chiefs tell him otherwise. He rejects their analyses. 

Trump believes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had nothing to do with the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Turkey. Why, because MBS, as he is known, told him so. But U.S. and United Nations intelligence findings say he is responsible. 

Trump trusts autocrats over his own advisors. 

Trump seeks personal relationships with despots, believing, somehow, they are eager, or at least willing, to enhance the position of the United States over their own country’s interests. 

By contrast, when he has to deal with substance, such as the issue of climate change during the just concluded G-20 meeting in Japan, he is incapable of displaying mutual cooperation with our traditional allies (

Trump is a world class spinmeister. Without achieving any concrete breakthroughs, he has positioned his photo-op meetings with Kim and with China’s president Xi Jinping as building blocks to foreign affairs victories. 

Even his detractors hope he is on the road to success. But wariness abounds that he is being played and that America will wind up no closer to achieving Trump’s objectives of denuclearization of North Korea and a more even-handed trade agreement with China.

Can You Trust The NY Times? The Times is still the gold standard of reporting. But its copyediting/proofreading increasingly leaves something to be desired. As a former editor I read most things with an eye toward what might be wrong (I’m not perfect myself, but at this juncture in my journalism career I am not being paid to get everything right). 

Twice in the last few weeks I spotted the same mistake in two different articles—the printing of “though” instead of “through.” I blame whatever spell check program The Times uses and the laziness of copyeditors/proofreaders to actually read content for clarity. 

A June Op-Ed by Thomas Edsall on meritocracy contained the following sentence: “Much resentment focuses on the way in which the meritocracy is selected, though the education process, and on the winnowing effect of extensive standardized assessments that seek to measure and validate cognitive skills” (

Did you catch the mistake? He meant “through the education process.” Hours after I read the piece The Times corrected it before I could send off a note to Edsall.

But a June 2 profile of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi and who The Times called “the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates” still contains the “though/through” mistake: “His military is the Arab world’s most potent, equipped though (should be “through”) its work with the United States to conduct high-tech surveillance and combat operations far beyond its borders” (

I know spell check has been a godsend to many a writer. But copyeditors/proofreaders need to be more careful. They are supposed to be the last line of defense against errors. 

Friday, June 28, 2019

Detention Centers or Concentration Camps: A Disgrace, Inhumane and a Blot on US Conscience

Most of my relatives on my father’s side killed by Nazis and their collaborator thugs never made it to a concentration or extermination camp. My father came to America in January 1939, two months after Kristallnacht. His family was rounded up in Ottynia and surrounding shtetls in what is now western Ukraine. Back then it was part of Poland. They were transported to Szeparowce Forest near Kolomya to be slaughtered and buried in mass graves. 

My mother came from Łódź in 1921 when she was four. Not surprisingly, she never talked about family left behind, family she never really knew. I’m sure they existed, only to be interned in the Łódź Ghetto, the second largest ghetto after Warsaw’s. Its victims included 210,000 Polish jews. Tens of thousands died in the ghetto. Tens of thousands died in the Chelmno extermination camp or in Auschwitz-Birkenau. 

A ghetto under Nazi rule was a defacto concentration camp. Unsanitary conditions. Meager food provisions. Overcrowding. Restricted egress and ingress. Involuntary confinement. Illness often resulted in death. 

If many if not all of those conditions appear strikingly similar to what asylum detainees, particularly children, are experiencing along our southern border with Mexico it is not surprising that activists are labeling detention facilities as American concentration camps. 

Throughout our centuries-long history Americans have not been inclined to view repressive conditions of non whites as problematic. Too few demonstrated against the sardine-like packaging of captured Africans in the holds of slave ships bound for North America and South America. Visit a historical plantation outside Charleston, SC, and you’ll see accommodations were not much better for slaves that survived the ocean crossing.  

Native Americans did not fare better. They were restricted to less than optimal land. If their land later proved valuable they were physically displaced, even in violation of treaty or a favorable Supreme Court ruling. Donald Trump’s hero of a president, Andrew Jackson, disregarded a Supreme Court decision in favor of the Cherokee Nation and marched them in a trail of tears to the Oklahoma territory. To this day life on a reservation—even with new-found gaming income—is not what one would covet. 

Japanese Americans were forced to live in so called internment camps during World War II. George Takei of Star Trek fame spoke out from personal experience, having been interned in two camps with his family from the age of five. He agreed concentration camps have sprouted up along our southern border (

Here’s another person who knows evil when he sees it: Ben Ferencz. He is 99 and the last surviving prosecutor of Nazis at the Nuremberg trials. Trump’s family separation policy is a “crime against humanity,” he says (

Let’s be clear. Though deaths have occurred, there is no government program to kill undocumented immigrants, be they outright illegals or asylum seekers. But there is also no viable program to deal in a humane way with those crossing our border. The answer is not to build a higher, impenetrable wall. 

As my friend Rabbi Robbie Harris posted on Facebook, “These detention centers may not be ‘concentration camps’ in the sense that the Jewish people suffered under Nazi Germany. But they are in any case a disgrace, inhumane, and a blot on the conscience of the United States of America. So it probably does not matter in the end what we call them.”

Sometimes it takes a face, or a body, to aggregate the rage and compassion felt by strangers around the world. So it was when the body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, Syrian of Kurdish background, washed ashore after he drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in September 2015 as he was trying to flee his country’s civil war. Earlier this week 23-month-old Valeria and her father Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande from Mexico, the last leg of their journey from El Salvador.

And, of course, the face of Anne Frank is well known. A victim of Nazi persecution, Anne did not die in a gas chamber. She died from typhus contracted from the unsanitary conditions in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp (here are two stories on conditions in the Clint, Tex., border station where children are being detained: and

On Thursday Gilda and I, with her cousins from Israel, spent three-plus hours at Manhattan’s Museum of Jewish Heritage walking the special exhibit, “Auschwitz. Not Long Ago. Not Far Away.” 

I’ve been to many Holocaust memorials, in America, Israel and Europe. New facts always reveal themselves. New images. 

One such image chilled me. It was from 1928. Hitler was at at outdoor event. He was standing next to what became known as the “Blood Flag,” so called because the swastika banner was bloodied during the failed Nazi coup of November 9, 1923, in Munich. He wasn’t just standing next to it. He had a tight grasp on the lower quarter of the flag.

I don’t suspect Trump of knowingly emulating Hitler when he caresses the American flag at his rallies, but his oratory of demonization and dehumanization of his enemies, real and imagined, powerful and weak, is a page right out of Hitler’s playbook. With a melding of such images in my mind, how could one disagree with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee when he said during the Democratic presidential debate Thursday night: “The biggest threat to the security of the United States is Donald Trump, and there’s no question about that.”

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Will Biden or Trump Be Target at Dem Debates?

Chum is filling the waters surrounding Joe Biden, bringing in political sharks eager to rip his candidacy to shreds. At times, inadvertently, Biden himself contributes to the bloody waters. All the while his Democratic rivals are doing Donald Trumps’ unspoken bidding in weakening his appeal. 

With each passing day, each revelatory past and present quote or vote, Biden is discovering for the first time that being a campaign frontrunner means the dissection of the corners, sometimes the dark, obscure corners, of his public life and his family’s private lives is fair game (

Biden can take small comfort that other candidates are under intense scrutiny. For Bernie Sanders it has meant explaining how a self-proclaimed socialist became a millionaire (a book contract and book sales). Bernie’s wife also has had to answer questions about her business conduct. 

Elizabeth Warren has earned veteran status answering queries about her heritage. Native American or not? Who really cares? Only those, including Trump, who care more about appearances and less about the substance of a campaign to ease the economic burden of struggling families. 

Mayor Pete Buttigieg is finding out how one nationally reported incident involving the shooting of an unarmed black man by a white policeman can dispel the tranquility and image of a well-run city. 

But it is Biden who has the most baggage from four and a half decades of public life in Washington. Votes he is proud of. Votes he regrets. Votes he once was proud of but now regrets. The press is eager to cite his shortcomings either through its own investigations or through “oppo” research provided by Democratic and Republican detractors. 

Regardless of who wins the Democratic nomination—the first debates are Wednesday and Thursday nights in Miami—he or she will face an incumbent whose integrity and character are shameful but irrelevant to much of the electorate. Yet, he or she will be held to a higher standard. 

Not fair, but surely true. Which leads us back to Biden. How should the acknowledged-by-all-frontrunner deal with the Chinese-water-torture drip of negative stories? Should he explain those were different times? Should he apologize? Should he recant and state new positions as he did with the Hyde Amendment restriction on federal financing of abortion (he’s now against any restriction)?

Or should he let the voters decide if he is Trump-challenger worthy? I’m inclined to pick that course, combined with selective usage of the recant and restate option. 

No candidate will emerge perfect and unscathed during this looooong nomination process. The media will do its share of nitpicking and hole punching. Other Democrats, on the other hand, must refrain from poisoning their brethren. They must remember the real objective is unseating Trump. It means nothing to secure the nomination if the prize eludes the nation because of party fratricide. 

They also must keep in mind that national elections are won by appealing to the broadest section of the electorate. Most Democrats and Independents are centrists, not radicals. The country is tiring of Trump’s extremism. It is not looking for a pendulum swing all the way to the left. Voters are seeking equilibrium with traditional American values. Democrats would be wise to heed the words of Charles Sykes, a conservative Wisconsin-based political commentator on how not to blow the election (

“She’s not my type.”: In other words, if she was, then, yeah, maybe I would have done it. 

That, in essence, is Trump’s latest defense against a claim of sexual assault in his pre-presidency days. Pictures at the time repudiated his alibi of never having met E. Jean Carroll. So he falls back on a frat house response to date rape. Nah, I wouldn’t touch her ’cause she’s not my type. 

As if that ever mattered to an oversexed, entitled-believing misogynist who has been outed for cheating on his two previous wives and on his current spouse just days after she delivered his fifth child. He at first denied the Stormy Daniels tryst but her version of their encounter apparently is the factual one. 

Undeniably Unreliable: I was amused by this AP headline above an article on fallout from Trump’s last minute decisions not to strike Iran for shooting down an unarmed American surveillance drone and for postponing the start of an ICE roundup of illegal aliens:

“AP Analysis: Trump moves show him to be unreliable partner” (

I was amused because Trump’s personal history has time and again shown him to be an unreliable partner. He has cheated on all three of his wives. He has stiffed numerous contractors for work they have done on his properties. He has defaulted on loans. His businesses have declared bankruptcy six times. He has bilked thousands of customers who enrolled in his “university.” He has reneged on deals he made with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. 

People! Hello! What more proof do you need before realizing he is not to be trusted?