Friday, March 30, 2018

President Spanky and His Gang

One of the more amusing tidbits to emerge from the 60 Minutes Stormy Daniels interview is a new nickname for The Donald allegedly used by Washington politicos. Reflecting off Stormy’s swatting him on his derriere with a rolled up magazine bearing his face on the cover during their tryst at the Beverly Hilton bungalow that apparently was his preferred pied-à-terre-les-liaisons-dangereusese, the cheek-in-chief is being called President Spanky

It seems overblown to label Stormy’s sexcapade with Spanky an actual affair as she claims they did it only once during their months-long relationship. It was more like a frisbee fling that so far has not officially landed. 

The kerfuffle over Stormy’ nondisclosure agreement brought to light Trump’s alleged demand that administration officials sign NDAs. If adhered to, one wonders how detailed a view the public will get of Trump world. One can only imagine the stories ex-secretary of state Rex Tillerson or ex-national security advisor General H.R. McMaster could tell. Or ex-press secretary Sean Spicer. But, according to The Washington Post, the NDAs include a penalty of $10 million if classified information is ever released without authorization. The fines would be paid to the government, not Trump ( 

If anyone would dare test the NDA it might well be David J. Shulkin. Fired within hours of being told by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly that his job as head of the Veterans Administration was safe, Shulkin said he was let go because he did not support Trump’s plan to privatize the VA ( 

“They saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed. That is because I am convinced that privatization is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans,” he wrote in The New York Times. 

“I can assure you that I will continue to speak out against those who seek to harm the V.A. by putting their personal agendas in front of the well-being of our veterans.”

Let’s hope he follows through and that others place loyalty to country ahead of NDA’s to an egotistic leader. 

Turn of Phrase: To be a television commentator or political show panel guest it seems one has to be able to put Trump’s actions in comic terms. I was particularly taken by a remark Republican strategist Ana Navarro made on a recent Real Time with Bill Maher. 

“The only consistent thing about Donald Trump is his inconsistency. We saw it with guns. We saw him doing it with barring gays from the military. The guy, you know, can hold more positions than the Kama Sutra.”

Safety First?: Mississippi governor Phil Bryant was quoted as saying he wants his state to be the safest for the unborn child. That’s why he is trying to prevent any abortion from happening in Mississippi. He signed a law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The law has been stayed in court pending a constitutional challenge ( 

But what Bryant doesn’t talk about is his state’s position on health care for expectant mothers and their babies.

A new report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention “showed that, from 2013 through 2015, the infant mortality rate in the U.S. ranged from 9.08 deaths per 1,000 infants born alive in Mississippi -- which had the highest rate -- to 4.28 deaths per 1,000 live births in Massachusetts, which had the lowest” (

Passover begins Friday night: Time of liberation. A template story for Africans bound into slavery in the New World. Some 40% of all slaves brought to North America landed in Charleston, SC. 

A new International African American Museum is planned for the city. But as The Times pointed out, South Carolina still has a ways to go to balance its dedication to the Confederacy and slavery with the inalienable rights of Black residents. “The state’s most recent proposal for social studies standards in public schools doesn’t mention the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., or Rosa Parks,” The Times noted (

Harbinger of Spring: Passover also is known as a celebration of spring. I have my own signal spring is upon us. My harbinger is not a crocus that keeps trying to reveal itself through the lingering cover of snow across our yard. Or the robins bobbing along each morning. 

No, my signal reveals itself in the middle of the night when I turn on the bathroom light, freezing any silverfish that, resurrected from a winter’s sleep, has chosen that moment to emerge from a crack where the baseboard meets the tiled floor.  

Friday, March 23, 2018

Timing of Trump Presidency in the Balance

In life, it is said, timing is everything.

The future of Donald Trump’s presidency, it may be said, hinges on timing. If one believes the dumpster-in-chief will fire special counsel Robert Mueller, the question becomes not why, but rather, when.

If he wields the twitter ax before the November elections he would galvanize an already white hot opposition, perhaps fueling enough rage to flip the House and Senate into Democratic control. Impeachment proceedings would surely follow in the new year when the next Congress convenes.

He may, therefore, wait to dump Mueller, along with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein until after the elections. But that route risks providing Mueller with more than seven full months to further his investigation of Russia’s influence and interference in the 2016 elections and the Trump family’s ties to Russia. 

Does Trump want, in his mind, to be a political piñata seemingly forever? According to CNN, Mueller has indicated he has four main topics he would like Trump to address through questioning: his “role in crafting a statement aboard Air Force One that miscast Donald Trump Jr.’s campaign June 2016 meeting with Russians in Trump Tower, the circumstances surrounding that Trump Tower meeting as well as the firings of FBI Director James Comey and national security advisor Michael Flynn” (

Though he has repeatedly said he would welcome talking with Mueller, Trump’s propensity to fabricate and dissemble could place him in jeopardy of perjury. It is hard to imagine any intelligent lawyer permitting Trump to appear under oath before Mueller. Of course, that presumes Trump would listen to any lawyer. He believes he always knows best.

During his campaign Trump boasted he would hire the best people (considering how many firings, resignations and abuses of taxpayer money his appointments have racked up, it is startling to think anyone has any confidence in Trump’s capacity to select competent, honest people to serve in his administration). 

Trump lambasted George W. Bush for his foreign policies, particularly as they affected the war in Iraq. So one wonders how he could hire John Bolton as his new national security advisor. Bolton was a prime contributor to Bush’s foreign policy team (

Bolton is as hawkish as they come, giving credence to speculation that Trump is surrounding himself with voices that prefer to counsel combat versus conflict resolution, be it with Iran, North Korea or any other trouble spot. 

Timing, again, comes into play. Trump wanted a tougher team behind him, with Bolton and secretary of state nominee Michael Pompeo, rather than General H.R. McMaster and Rex Tillerson, as he prepares to meet with North Korea leader Kim Jong-Un and reaches a decision on staying in or abrogating the Iran nuclear deal. 

In the context of what is good for the country or what is good for Trump, he might favor hostilities as history has shown that at least at the beginning of combat the public rallies around a president. 

In the end, however, a sufficient number of voters will come to their senses. As long as the Democrats do not choose an unelectable alternative, Trump’s tenure in office is just a matter of time ticking off until January 2020, or sooner. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Three Deaths in an Extended Family

The official cause of death was reported as respiratory failure, but to me anything but a broken heart would be a mischaracterization.

Charles Lazarus, the guiding light of Toys “R” Us for 46 years, died Thursday, one week to the day after the company he founded in 1948 filed bankruptcy liquidation papers. He was 94. 

In a corporate obituary of Toys “R” Us I posted just a week ago, I wrote, “I cannot imagine what must now be gripping his emotions” (

It somehow seems fitting that Lazarus did not outlast his creation. Even if some parts of Toys “R” Us may be resuscitated, as some toy suppliers are trying to cobble together a successor company, the chain will never be the same as when Lazarus commanded the toy industry. 

I had the good fortune of knowing some of the titans of the retail industry during the last half century. Lazarus would qualify for Mount Rushmore status. He invented the category killer discount specialty store concept copied in numerous merchandise categories. 

Retailers with his merchandising, marketing and operational skills, linked by strategic perception and unmatched passion, are rare birds. He will be missed by all who knew him and by countless children, some still young, some now grown up, some not yet conceived.  

Back to the Shtetl: One never knows where inspiration for a posting will emerge, where a seemingly distant reference might intersect with some part of your or your family’s past.

The New York Times ran an obituary of Rabbi Mordechai Hager in Saturday’s edition ( The 95-year-old rabbi was the leader of the American branch of the Viznitz Hasidim, a religious sect that began in the Carpathian foothills of what is now western Ukraine. My father’s shtetl town of Ottynia was in that region, so I was naturally interested in details of Rabbi Hager’s life. 

As I read the obituary I was struck by the following: “Mordechai Hager was born on July 20, 1922, in Oradea, Romania, known among Yiddish speakers as Grosswardein. His father, Chaim Meir Hager, was the fourth grand rabbi of Vyzhnytsia (Viznitz in Yiddish), the village in the Carpathian foothills in what is today western Ukraine; the village had been the seat of this Hasidic dynasty since its beginnings in the mid-19th century.”

The key phrase, “His father, Chaim Meir Hager,” made me race to my folder on Ottynia. In a booklet published in 2000 by Philip Spiegel, a descendant of Ottynia emigres, there are numerous references to “Rabbi Chaim Hager and the Chassidim of Ottynia.” (Observant readers will notice the cited names are not totally identical: Chaim Meir Hager vs. Chaim Hager, but the family of rabbis is definitely the same.)

“Rabbi Chaim Hager was born in Wishnitz in 1864. He was the sixth generation of the Wishnitz dynasty of rabbis who descended from Rabbi Kopel Chassid, a student of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidism in the early 18th century (interestingly, my father’s first name was Kopel). At age 13, Chaim Hager was ordained as a rabbi after studying with his grandfather. … 

“Toward the end of the 19th century he settled in Ottynia and thousands of Chassidim came there to study with him.”

Ottynia changed hands several times during World War I. Seeking safety, Rabbi Hager moved to Vienna during the war. “When the war ended he found much of Ottynia and the synagogues in ruins so he moved to Stanislawow,” now called Ivano-Frankivska, a larger city to the northwest. He died in 1931 in Krakow. He was buried in Stanislawow. 

Many Viznitz Hasidim emigrated to Israel after World War II. They settled in Bnei Brak, outside Tel Aviv. Yeshivat Ottynia, in Bnei Brak, has been run by a grandson of Rabbi Chaim Hager. 

I’ve visited Israel numerous times, never stopping in Bnei Brak. Now that I have a connection, I cannot say it will make a difference the next time I am in Israel.

Leading Lady: I got to know Charles Lazarus and other retail luminaries because I worked for Lebhar-Friedman, publisher of Chain Store Age. L-F is a family run company, founded in 1925 by Arnold Friedman, Godfrey Lebhar and John Stern (I have no idea why his name is not part of the company). 

Since 1981 after the death of his father, Roger Friedman has led the company. Once, twice or maybe three times a year, I would see his wife Pat at the office, a company function or at one of our conferences. She usually wore something red. She always smiled and had a graceful gait, walking with head held high. 

The last time I saw Pat Friedman, about five years ago, Gilda and I were eating lunch with Ellie in the basement cafeteria of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ellie worked at The Met. Pat was there because she was a docent. 

Pat died last Thursday, March 15. Here’s a portion of the death notice printed in The Times:

“Patricia Mosle Friedman of New York, NY, and Pecos, NM, passed away on March 15th, 2018, after an intense battle with cancer. She died peacefully, in her sleep, surrounded by her family’s love. Born in Litchfield, CT, to A. Henry Mosle and Jane Magor Mosle, she graduated Magna Cum Laude from Columbia University where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. She later received her M.A. from the Institute of Fine Arts, and spent several years as an adjunct professor at Hunter College where she taught Impressionism and Post Impressionism. She earned a Certificate of Achievement from The New York School of Interior Design and freelanced as an interior designer with Stroheim and Romann. 

“Passionate about the arts as a whole, Pat excelled as a student and teacher of Middle Eastern Dance, and performed several times at Lincoln Centre under her stage name, Patrima. For the past 30 years, Pat truly loved being a Docent at The Metropolitan Museum, serving as Chair of the Collection Tour Program from 2008-2010. She served as a guide in the High School Program, and an adult tour guide in Highlights, Impressionism, Post Impressionism, and Modern & Contemporary. She was perpetually inspired by the works of art that she covered, and rejoiced in the constant sense of ongoing discovery and learning. 

“She was a Colonial Dame, a Sustainer of The Junior League of New York where she was named Volunteer of The Year, a Founding Member of the Board of the National Dance Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and sat for many years on the Board of The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependance. 

“Pat is survived by her husband of 55 years, Roger, their daughter, Amanda, son, Randall, daughter-in-law, Tomomi, and twin granddaughters, Sasha and Myla.”

Friday, March 16, 2018

From Proudest Moment to Saddest, the Saga of Toys "R" Us Founder Charles Lazarus

With the liquidation bankruptcy filing of Toys “R” Us, the era of the category killer store may be said to be over. Toys “R” Us was the original category killer chain that overwhelmed small specialty and large general merchandise stores by offering a supermarket-style presentation of wide and deep assortments of sharply priced category specific merchandise. 

To be sure, a few category killers remain—Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Bed Bath & Beyond, and even the struggling Barnes & Noble, to name several. But the graveyard list of category killers is much larger. An incomplete list would include Child World, Lionel Leisure, KB Toys, Circuit City, Crazy Eddie, Sports Authority, Oshman’s Sporting Goods, Linens ’n Things.

When Toys “R” Us began in 1948, if you wanted toys, or an appliance or housewares item—virtually anything—you would go downtown to a department store. There were no suburban department stores back then. There were no suburban shopping centers. 

Charles Lazarus used $4,000 to transform his father’s Washington, DC, bicycle shop into a juvenile furniture store. After customers kept asking for toys, Lazarus quickly evolved his merchandise mix to focus on toys. 

He believed staunchly in regimental uniformity. All business decisions–which products to carry, merchandising and store layout–emanated from headquarters. “I should be able to close my eyes and walk 130 feet and put my hand down and touch the very same stack of items in each store. If not, there’s something wrong,” he used to say. 

Lazarus was an early believer in the power of point of sale data. He partnered with suppliers, accepting early inventory deliveries and sharing sales data in return for discounts and assurances that Toys “R” Us would be kept in stock on the most wanted toys. The chain’s wide and deep inventory position became a strategic advantage when desperate parents and grandparents scavenged for the most wanted present during the holiday season. In stock leadership, not price, cemented the company’s position as the go-to retailer for toys. 

This advantage started to dissipate in the late 1980s as Walmart and Target refined their POS data systems. They concentrated on the hottest toys, selling them at discounted prices. They had more stores than Toys “R” Us. Shoppers visited them more often. They siphoned off sales in buckets, not drips and drabs. 

If you needed a specific toy, the place to go no longer was Toys “R” Us. In the age of the Internet, you searched on line, Amazon most likely.

With the advent of electronic games, computers and hand-held devices, traditional toys began losing their cache among children. Toys “R” Us added video games to its assortment, but one didn’t need to visit a store to upload apps to a hand-held device.

The real dagger to the heart of Toys “R” Us and other retailers, however, has been the greedy tentacles of private equity fund managers. They swooped in to ostensibly rescue retailers, offering cash secured against a retailer’s real estate. Some merchants had lagged because they could not compete against more streamlined, better financed competitors. Some were unable to cope with changing market conditions. Some just had inadequate management. It mattered not to the equity funds. They reaped their profits upfront from the leveraged buyout transaction, from interest payments on the debt it provided and, hopefully, from taking a retailer public if its profitability improved. 

Ever since Charles Lazarus retired from his creation in 1994, Toys “R” Us has lacked an energetic, bold merchant at the helm. Profits lagged. The equity funds offered money. But at a highly leveraged  price. Executives with no proprietary interest in a company, other than to maximize their personal returns, usually succumb to the siren song of a deep-pocketed equity fund. Bain Capital and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, along with Vornado Realty Trust, loaded Toys “R” Us with $5 billion in debt in a 2005 leveraged buyout. 

The downward sales spiral kept Toys “R” Us from paying off the debt and, ominously, from upgrading its stores and systems. All that’s left now is to sell off its real estate. 

Charles Lazarus is now 94. The last time I saw him was about 15 years ago as I was leaving work. He was window shopping a store located on the ground floor level of the Park Avenue office building housing Chain Store Age. We exchanged pleasantries but even then, a decade removed from active Toys “R” Us management, he resisted talking about the company he founded. 

He always was a reluctant interview (see I cannot imagine what must now be gripping his emotions. 

His proudest moment, he used to say, was paying off the creditor debt Toys “R” Us assumed when its then-parent company, Interstate Stores, dragged it into Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in 1974. Other Chapter 11 filings have occurred, none under his watch. 

On Thursday, management filed for Chapter 7 liquidation. The same market forces that will silence Lazarus’ once ubiquitous airwaves jingle—“I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Toys “R” Us kid …,”—are sure to wreak havoc among remaining category killer stores. For some, if not all, it is just a matter of time before they share a similar fate.  

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Trump Pitches Gun Control. Is He Going Progressive?

With an executive order that unilaterally banned bump stocks and simultaneously earned him the wrath of the National Rifle Association, are we witnessing the emergence of Donald Trump, progressive president?

The candidate-supported-by-the-NRA-who-became-president told the group’s national conference last April, “The eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end. You have a true friend and champion in the White House.”

But that was before the massacres at Parkland, FL, and Las Vegas. Trump told the NRA he was “going to come through for you,” (, but he’s a master at reading the public mood which appears to be in favor of reining in unbridled gun ownership. He seems to now favor allowing states to raise the legal age to buy assault style rifles like the ones used in Las Vegas and Parkland. His proposals on guns control may be released Sunday.

Trump knows that no matter how stiff the restrictions he would place on the sale and possession of guns, Democrats would impose tighter prohibitions, leaving him as a distasteful but still the only viable choice of the NRA. 

He probably also feels he no longer needs the $30 million the NRA posted for his election campaign. It would be nice to have, but no longer a necessity. He does, after all, have the power of the presidency to supplement his already proven power of publicity to transmit his message to the public.

As noted in The New York Times article last April,  Trump was a “supporter of restrictions on guns before he entered politics.” Is he going back to his “natural” tendencies, his, in the words of Ted Cruz, “New York values?” Is he truly a progressive, ready to come out of the conservative closet?

Not so fast. 

If there has been one underlying tenet of the Trump Doctrine of governance it is to overturn any vestige of Barack Obama’s presidency. If it were within his power to remove Obama’s and Michelle’s portraits from the National Portrait Gallery, I am convinced he would do it. 

Rather than have beliefs grounded in thought-out principles, Trump is an opportunist. His seeming shift on gun control comes from tragedy. One wonders if it will take another Deepwater Horizon-like catastrophe to reverse his administration’s lifting of safeguards for off-shore oil and gas drilling (

There have been several articles on how regulations protecting people and the environment have been scaled back or eliminated under Trump. Here’s a list The Times compiled as of January 31, 2018:

Around the same time—the anniversary of Trump’s inauguration—the Intelligencer section of New York magazine published a piece on how he has tainted our country ( Here are three salient paragraphs:

“The elegant simplicities of campaign rhetoric—or, in Trump’s case, the brutal simplicities—never align with the ugly and complex reality of governing. But Trump’s presidency has presented an especially jarring contrast, since the rhetoric has borne no relation whatsoever to what followed. It’s not that he overpromised but that his promises were fundamentally a con. He and his loyalists possessed not the faintest idea how to address the crises he identified, not even a theory that could lead to a detailed response. Trump’s program has instead defaulted to the preexisting desires of his party’s ideological and funding base, resulting in a regulatory and tax agenda virtually—and in some cases literally—dictated by the business lobby.

“For instance: The federal government will no longer withhold subsidies from for-profit colleges that fail to give their students meaningful skills or educations and saddle their graduates with overwhelming debt. Restaurant owners stand to legally take for themselves tips intended for their servers. Financial advisers will be able to knowingly steer their clients toward investments that benefit the adviser’s firm but not the client. Environmental Protection Agency investigators must now obtain permission (from their fanatically anti-regulation administrator’s office) before even asking companies to track the pollutants they emit. Nursing homes and banks will be allowed to force their customers to sign mandatory arbitration clauses that leave them unable to sue if they are abused or cheated. And on and on. The party’s political messaging has increasingly consisted of ignoring the costs of these measures (higher deficits, lax regulation of risky or antisocial business activity) while highlighting whatever fractional benefits trickle down to the non-business-owning public.

“Employment has grown no faster under Trump than it did at the end of his predecessor’s term. The economy produced slightly fewer new jobs in Trump’s first year than it did in Barack Obama’s last. The primary evidence of the “success” of Trump’s pro-business policies has been to rebrand the essentially continuous conditions of the recovery he inherited as dazzling prosperity rather than bleak misery.”

Progressive? No. A most emphatic, NO! 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Lessons From Tariffs, Import Quotas and Walmart

Let the trade wars begin.

In an effort to resuscitate American industry, Donald Trump launched the first salvo Thursday in what may become a global trade war by imposing a 25% tariff on imported steel alongside a 10% tariff on imported aluminum. How the world will react, and if Trump has a counter-counterattack, remains unclear at this time.

It is not the first time America has sought to level off its unbalanced trade, particularly with China and other countries that flood—some would say, dump—cheaper alternatives to domestic U.S. production. In a global economy, manufacturers seek out the least expensive raw materials, labor and finished products. Too often, that means consumers at home and abroad think American made goods are overpriced. 

Heck, relocating supply lines has long been practiced by American industry. Textile companies fled the North to establish plants down South where non unionized workers earned less than their northern counterparts. But even lower southern wages could not compete with foreign laborers in Latin America and Asia. Executives fluent in global sourcing minutia shifted manufacturing from country to country to stay below import quotas established by the American government.

Trump champions America First, so it is not surprising he would favor steel and aluminum tariffs, particularly since underutilized plants are mostly located in Rust Belt states Trump won in 2016 and needs to win in 2020—Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin. It seemingly does not bother Trump that prices of many goods that include steel and aluminum components will rise and could cost more jobs in related industries than would be created by the metal makers.

Trump, who spoke out against Chinese dumping practices years before his presidential run, was not the first business titan to see the danger of a depleted American manufacturing base. Back in 1985, Sam Walton positioned Walmart as an advocate of “Buy America.” 

I went to the source—my bound copies of Chain Store Age—to review how the retail industry and I reacted to import quotas and to Mr. Sam’s defensive ploy to combat a growing criticism of his company, at $6.5 billion, the seventh largest general merchandise chain, a little less than a third the size of $21.7 billion Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Kmart’s $21.1 billion. (Today, Walmart is the largest retailer in the world with sales of $485.9 billion in the recently concluded fiscal year. Sears and its now-sister company Kmart have a combined volume of less than $17 billion). 

Not surprisingly, retailers, who normally supported Reagan administration policies, railed against quotas. Under the headline, “Protectionism: Policies leave chains vulnerable,” CSA reported in September 1984 that tighter import quotas fueled dramatic price increases in many merchandise categories. Kmart, for example, estimated the cost of goods from China increased 25%. 

Fast forward to Trump’s imposition of tariffs and the reaction is no less muted. Thursday, National Retail Federation president and CEO Matthew Shay said, “A tariff is a tax, plain and simple. In this case, it’s an unnecessary tax on every American family and a self-inflicted wound on the nation’s economy. Consumers are just beginning to see more money in their paychecks following tax reform, but those gains will soon be offset by higher prices for products ranging from canned goods to cars to electronics.

“The retail industry is extremely concerned by the administration’s apparent desire to ignite a trade war, where the net losers will be the very people the president wants to help. On top of steel and aluminum tariffs, retailers are troubled by the direction of the ongoing NAFTA negotiations and the threat of additional tariffs on consumer goods from China. The true greatness of America cannot be realized when we build walls blocking the free flow of commerce in today’s global economy.”

Importing helped catapult the Bentonville, Ark.-based company into a global powerhouse. To be sure, few if any of Walmart’s competitors disdained importing. But Walmart’s heralded logistical and technological efficiencies accelerated its growth.

When Sam Walton started speaking publicly about imported goods in August 1984, his company was a burgeoning juggernaut but still not near the size of Sears and Kmart. He framed the challenge as dual pronged—reduce the trade deficit by buying American made products, but if that is not possible, develop products and jobs in Mexico, Central America and South America to “improve the standard of living for the average citizen in Central and South America.” 

Within a year Walton launched a “Buy America” program. Skeptics abounded. The program persisted, but in December 1992, five months after Walton died, NBC Dateline confronted company CEO David Glass with allegations products marketed as Made in America really were imported from Bangladesh. The adverse publicity led to the program’s demise.

Several years ago, Walmart started a Made in America program. It proudly touts a claim that “two-thirds of what Walmart spends on products sold in U.S. stores is made, sourced, assembled or grown within the USA.” That is according to our suppliers,” Walmart acknowledges.

That provides a wide definition of American made. (Sales last year in domestic Walmart stores and Sam’s Clubs totaled $365.2 billion.) It cannot be argued that Walmart’s expansion and buying practices did not gut many a small town of local retailing and small malls, as well as contribute to the closing of many domestic manufacturing plants supplanted by foreign suppliers. 

But it is equally indisputable that shopping at Walmart has stretched consumer dollars and helped keep inflation in check.

It’s too soon to say what lasting impact Trump’s tariffs will have on sales, on inflation, on employment. But it’s safe to say they will not markedly change our balance of trade with the rest of the world.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Rumbles From Above, Superman's an Illegal Alien, Native Americans are Immigrants too, Oprah Rejects God's Entreaty

Few things are more disconcerting than hearing a rumbling sound during a snowstorm that shakes the very foundation of your house. Not once but at least six times in the space of 90 minutes the house shook Wednesday afternoon as snow from the upper reaches of our home tumbled down to a lower roof level.

Each rumble transported me back in time, more than three decades ago, when I first heard a similarly unnerving cascade that defied my comprehension. 

Back then Gilda and I, and our infant son Dan, lived in a Tudor style house with a slate roof. After an especially deep snow fall, we were getting ready for bed when the rumbling started, lasting about six seconds. I thought someone had rolled up the garage door and was breaking into our home.

I yelled to Gilda to call the police as I threw on a pair of jeans, a sweatshirt and sneakers, grabbed a baseball bat from the closet and raced outdoors to confront the intruder. 

Outside I saw the garage door had not been opened. I spotted a pile of snow on an otherwise smooth blanket of snow. I looked to the roof and realized the snow had rumbled down the slate. I felt foolish.

But not as concerned as Gilda felt. The police had cautioned her I should not be outside lest they suspect I was the suspected burglar, armed as I was, with a bat. The patrol car arrived just as Gilda opened the front door and screamed for me to get inside.

Not so fast. After due process, the police let me go with an admonition never again to play the brave fool. 

Oscars Followup: Superman was mentioned during the Oscars telecast which got me thinking that despite all the good the caped crusader has performed since 1933, Donald Trump’s Homeland Security authorities would eject him from the United States. 

He is, after all, an undocumented alien. His parents transported him from Krypton to America while still a baby, but he’s too old to be a Dreamer, so he would not be shielded from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). They couldn’t send him back to Krypton as it imploded. They’d have to find a country willing to take someone who “fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way,” not traits readily identified with Trump’s United States. 

Natives, Really? In most conversations, oral and written, about immigrants, legal and illegal, it often is stated that only Native Americans—Indians—did not emigrate to America. 

Oh, really? Let’s be clear: the first settlers of America were immigrants from an as yet undetermined land or lands. Numerous theories abound

Bottom line: Everyone in America is descendant from an immigrant. 

God Couldn’t Talk Her into It: Even an appearance by God on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert couldn’t convince Oprah Winfrey to launch a campaign for the presidency in 2020. The tete-a-tete between titans produced laughs and some real longing by those seeking a cultural change in the White House (

Oprah’s progressive positions are well documented, but she is correct in distancing herself from a political future. She need only gaze at the shattered legacy of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar (Burma) to visualize what her future would be. On Wednesday, a 2012 human rights award she received from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was revoked because of the ongoing mistreatment and massacre of Rohingya Muslims during her reign as Myanmar’s state counsellor ( 

The minute Oprah equivocated on any tenet of progressivism she would be criticized by leftist radicals no less sharply than by conservatives who would be merciless in their everyday abuse. 

Americans do not want their icons tarnished by real world politics. Since politics is supposed to include the art of compromise, Winfrey could not be expected to deliver on all items on her constituents’ wish list. She is better off leaving politics to the politicians while championing causes and rallying voters.  

Friday, March 2, 2018

Making One's Own History at Home

If you subscribe online to The New York Times you receive advance copies of features that will appear in the Sunday edition of the printed newspaper. So it was Friday morning that I read what I presume will be the lead article of the real estate section: “When Your Home Has a History” (

It was an interesting story about past occupants of apartments and houses and how such provenance might affect the sale or enjoyment of domiciles beyond their intrinsic value. As the article related, occupants do not always know the secrets of their homes before taking possession of the premises.

So it was for Gilda and me when we moved into our home almost 33 years ago. Oh, we knew who the sellers were, though we never met them, not even at the closing. They were represented at the closing by a court appointed lawyer picked to oversee distribution of any joint assets. You see, they were in the middle of a rather bitter divorce. 

Neither lived in the house when Gilda looked at it with our real estate agent while I was at work one day in early March. Living there were two dogs, one large, one small. The small one was the feistier. The dogs had the run of the house. You can imagine what we found on the seven rooms of wall to wall carpet when we finally moved in two months later. 

Gilda knew this was the house we should buy by a convergence of numerical coincidences: She saw the house on March 11. The house number was 11. Our birthdays are 11 days apart. We were married 11 years at the time. We were married in the 11th month of the Jewish calendar. On the first night as a married couple in our first home in Connecticut, when we looked at our digital clock, it was 11:11. 

We didn’t think about the previous owners other than to relate to friends how they must have really disliked each other not to reach a divorce settlement for nearly a year. The price of the house had been set by the court the prior August. It didn’t go onto the market until the following March 11. Though home prices had escalated since August, the price of their home remained firmly set in the past. Our gain, their loss.

And so it was for the first 10 years of living in our current home. Then, as I was fiddling around with the insulation in the rafters of our basement one day, an envelope fell to the ground. 

In it was a love letter. A love letter from him to her. I invaded their privacy. I read the letter. Wouldn’t you? 

I don’t remember any of it specific language. Though I saved the letter for several years, I eventually discarded it, much the same way he, or she, discarded their once-loving union. 

I hadn’t thought about that note for the better part of a decade until this morning as I read The Times while torrential rain, then some snow showers followed by strong gusts of wind assaulted our homestead, overturning a Weber grill on the patio, knocking down part of a fence and leaving a large lake with wind-blown ripples in our back yard. 

Our home indeed had a history, but not as memorable and meaningful as the one we have lived for more than three decades and who knows how many more. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Guns Pose a Danger, And That's the Truth. Plus, Who Was Marjory Stoneman Douglas?

It is often argued that only a liberal, Democratic president can alter progressive policy. Only a Republican president can do an about face on conservative dogma. Thus, a Richard Nixon could open a dialogue with and recognize Red China. Bill Clinton could institute work requirements for welfare recipients.

In the wake of the Parkland, FL, high school shooting, with numerous corporations retreating from financial discounts for National Rifle Association members and major retailers like Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods and the Fred Meyer division of Kroger tightening gun sale guidelines, it is no wonder that Donald Trump is seeking cover for his heretofore unassailable backing of the NRA. He is, at least publicly, rethinking his previous unqualified support of second amendment rights that many have come to believe far exceed the intent of the founding fathers.

It is a savvy move by Trump but one that does carry risk. Savvy because Trump needs to expand his base. What better way to appeal to independents, and even some Democrats, than to crater into their gun control mindset? Trump is a master at reading the public mood. Clearly there is growing momentum for a review of our national gun toting policy, finally, after the second largest student death toll. 

Sure, NRA members and Trump’s conservative base won’t like it, but at this point in time he is their man. No one else in the Republican party can buck him at the polls. So they’ll vote for him because they know any Democrat would demand even tighter gun laws.

Savviness comes with risk. If Trump doesn’t deliver more restrictive gun control he will be held accountable by independents and Democrats as an empty suit (which, given his corpulent state, is hard to imagine any suit he wears being less than overfilled). He would not be able to claim Democrats wouldn’t vote for gun control. Nor could he allege Republican congressmen and senators thwarted him because, as already evident, Trump now controls the GOP.  If he truly wants gun control it will happen. 

He must deliver on his promise.

Delivering on any promise is, of course, a challenge for Trump. More than once he has reneged on public promises. Recall how, with cameras rolling, he told a meeting of bi-partisan legislators he would accept any deal they brought him on the future of undocumented workers and border security. Just days later he rejected their proposal. So pinning Trump down on gun control may be as difficult, especially after he gets an earful from Wayne LaPierre and his fellow NRA sharpshooter elite. 

It’s always amusing and often instructive to listen to how late night comedians parse the news. After Trump told a televised bi-partisan meeting of legislators Wednesday he would favor taking guns away from “mentally ill people or others who could present a danger without first going to court,” (, Stephen Colbert noted he was “doing something Obama never did—he is coming for your guns!” (

If I were an NRA member, or simply a gun enthusiast, I wouldn’t worry. The odds of Trump following through on this initiative are as long as his ability to tell the truth.

Speaking of telling the truth, departing White House communication director Hope Hicks is reported to have acknowledged to the House Intelligence Committee earlier this week that she occasionally had told “white lies” in support of Trump’s candidacy and presidency.

“Well, duh,” commented Colbert. “Telling lies to white people is what got Trump elected.”

Touché. But not really. You’d have to be pretty naive to believe politicians and their staffs don’t dissemble the truth, not now-and-again, but pretty regularly. Just accept it as the price of any government doing business, hopefully, in the best interests of their constituents. Of course, that’s why we need a free, unbridled press to put the truth on the record.

Perhaps I missed it, but in all the coverage of the mass murders in Florida there has been nothing on Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the woman for whom the high school was named. Gilda passed along this article from that provides a vibrant portrait of this extraordinary champion of environmental and women’s rights: