Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Convenience vs. Affordability, The Ethical Dilemmas of the World We Live In

“Time and again, when confronted with the choice between convenience and affordability and the less tangible benefits of emotional intimacy, humans have opted for the former.”

Let’s face it. Aside from living in a material world, we have succumbed to a life of leisure in lieu of exertion. We no longer get up to change the TV channel. We don’t manually roll down car windows anymore. We don’t open the freezer door to get ice. We live in a push button world. 

Mattresses no longer have to be turned every month. For most products we don’t have to trek to the store. Our exercise, instead, is to pick up the Internet or mail order package from the front porch or apartment lobby. 

The premise having been set, if not accepted, please contemplate the shared meaning of three articles I pass along for your edification. The first is from a philosopher, S. Matthew Liao. Writing an Op-Ed in The New York Times, Liao wondered aloud (if you can do so in print) if one has a moral duty to jettison one’s relationship with Facebook given its unconscionable and inexcusable behavior in the 2016 presidential elections and in other activities that have undermined democracy in America and abroad (https://nyti.ms/2zqSUx8). 

Aside from posting my blogs to Facebook, I have a financial interest in professor Liao’s opinion. My broker talked me into buying some Facebook stock shortly after it went public. Am I a silent sinner in the debasement of democratic values? 

It’s not every day, but hardly a week goes by that a box with a smiley face on the cardboard exterior doesn’t land on our front porch. I spent almost all of my journalism career in support of physical retail stores. Chain Store Age, by its very name, heralded my bias. Though the magazine covered mail order and Internet retailers, our first allegiance was to brick and mortar stores. 

When Amazon erupted on the scene, it was as an attack on book stores, most prominently exemplified by Barnes & Noble, B. Dalton Booksellers, Borders, Books-a-Million, Crown Books, to name but a handful.

Now, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is ranked the wealthiest man in the world as his creation sells virtually all types of merchandise. And through Amazon Prime I download programs not available on cable or basic television stations.

With bigness comes inevitable vilification. From the Web news site Vox, here’s an article suggesting the time is ripe to cancel one’s Amazon Prime subscription (https://www.vox.com/platform/amp/the-goods/2018/11/26/18112769/amazon-prime-cancel).

Could I really give up watching the upcoming second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel? Or pay for shipping on all those purchases? And what would become of all those UPS and FedEx, not to mention USPS, delivery men and women who rely on Amazon to keep them on the road? 

On the one hand, the Vox article correctly notes Amazon’s history of “monopolistic practices to tax avoidance, poor treatment of both white- and blue-collar workers, union-busting, environmental damage, and most recently, the year-long publicity stunt of HQ2, a bad-faith ploy to extract private data from US cities that ended with Amazon plopping its supposedly economy-boosting offices into the two most established markets on the East Coast.”

On the other hand, the history of retailing, and for that matter almost every industry, is that market leaders are attacked. As Sears in its heyday was, and then Walmart was and still is, Amazon is scrutinized for practices that virtually all other retailers undertake in their own spheres. Target might emit a nicer aura in which to shop, but it treats its workers no better than Walmart, or Amazon. 

So I swallow any bile I might have toward Amazon and continue to log on. As long as I’m getting value for my dollar, I will continue to do so.

The third article presents in stark terms perhaps the penultimate consequence of society’s acceptance of the depreciating value of human labor. From Vox, here’s an article that asks, “Sex doll brothels are now a thing. What will happen to real-life sex workers?” (https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/11/26/18113019/sex-doll-brothels-legal-sex-work?_gl=1*13fjbq5*)

Returning to the opening quote taken from the sex doll article, here’s an added line to it: “Time and again, when confronted with the choice between convenience and affordability and the less tangible benefits of emotional intimacy, humans have opted for the former. There’s no reason to think that the sex industry will prove the exception to the rule.”

And to think, just a few short paragraphs ago I was worried about the future of truck drivers!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

A Broadway Experience A Child Would Remember

About a month ago Ellie took three-and-a-half-year-old CJ to her first live play, a local Omaha production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Like many young girls CJ is enraptured by stories of princesses. So Ellie was not too surprised that CJ sat intently absorbing the three hour production (her equally young friend bailed out at intermission). 

Experiencing live theater at any level is a treat best appreciated at the youngest age possible. Ellie, for example, tasted live theater when she was barely five years old. It was  a staging of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Coat at the Emelin Theatre in Mamaroneck. She and eight-year-old Dan squealed loudly when they recognized the actor playing an Elvis-inspired pharaoh was a counselor from their summer camp. (Eight years later Ellie’s first dramatic roles in “real” Broadway plays came in two productions of Joseph, the first as the vampy wife of Potiphar in her eighth grade play, and then as one of Joseph’s brothers in the first Play Group Theatre rendition in Westchester. 

For the next four years PGT and Ellie were almost inseparable. After Joseph, Ellie took on leading roles as Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors, the baker’s wife in Into the Woods, Wendy in Peter Pan and Ti-Moune in Once on This Island. (In non PGT productions she was Rizzo in Grease and split the role of the Leading Player in Pippin.)

Ask most adults who grew up in the 1950s and early 1960s about the shows they remember seeing and they invariably will call out names like Howdy Doody or Leave It to Beaver, Winky Dink, Captain Kangaroo or The Lone Ranger

I, too, watched those television shows. I have fond memories of them and enjoy the nostalgic times friends reminisce about them. But the shows that made the biggest impression on me, the ones I most recall from that golden time, were Broadway shows. 

In the short span of five years, from the time I was nine to 14 years old, I saw at least six Broadway shows and two operas (Tosca and La Traviata) at the Metropolitan Opera House. 

My earliest Broadway memory—seeing Sam Levene in the comedy Make a Million. For the record, I cannot recall any of the plot. But I do remember sitting with my siblings in the balcony while my parents sat in the orchestra. (An interesting footnote: Make a Million was co-written by Norman Barasch. For those not aware, Gilda’s maiden name is Barasch. She is unaware of any family connection to Norman.)

If you’re not familiar with Sam Levene, let me assure you he was a bonafide star of the theater and movies. Google his name if you don’t believe me. 

My Broadway experience was heightened by the renowned original casts I witnessed. In 1961, Phil Silvers and Nancy Walker in Do Re Mi. Later that year Camelot featured Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet. 1961 was a stellar theater-going year for me. I also saw Robert Weede, Mimi Benzell and Molly Picon in Milk and Honey. The next year, Alfred Drake in Kean, followed in 1964 by Zero Mostel and Maria Karnilova in Fiddler on the Roof.   

The inspiration for this whole story is to tell you Ellie and Gilda took CJ to a Sunday matinee of a Broadway revival of Once on This Island. Yes, it could be argued that CJ is a tad young for the play’s message. But Ellie has been showing CJ a video of her performance 20 years ago as Ti-Moune. CJ is familiar with the plot and the songs. 

Ellie and Gilda reported she sat on the edge of her seat, enthralled, throughout the performance. She had a day to remember: a subway ride, a walk through Times Square after dark, dinner out in a restaurant, and her first Broadway play. It’s hard to imagine it could have been any better.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Thanksgiving Breeds Some Food for Thought

As is her wont, Gilda crafted a most delicious Thanksgiving meal: turkey, of course, accompanied by stuffing, mashed potatoes, butternut squash and Brussels sprouts. She even baked a pumpkin pie. 

But let’s get back to the side dishes served with the main course, specifically, the Brussels sprouts. The fact that I eat and enjoy Brussels sprouts is quite amazing given my antipathy (a mild word) towards them while growing up. 

As my father was a basic meat and potatoes with a side of rye bread kind of guy, my mother didn’t serve too many green vegetables. Those she did try to slip onto our dinner plates were often overcooked. Her asparagus, for example, came out limper than a deflated balloon. 

Not that I was a gourmand growing up (nor now).  My poor eating habits drove my mother back to full time work, she used to say. I rejected green peas as an infant, using them as projectiles cast far away from my high chair.

Today, peas are among my favorite vegetables. 

I overcame my distaste for asparagus quite by accident.  During a TWA flight to Los Angeles in first class, thanks to a frequent flyer upgrade some 30 plus years ago, the flight attendant didn’t ask. She simply placed an appetizer dish of cold asparagus before me. Like Mikey in the Life cereal TV commercial of yore, I tried them and liked them. 

On a trip to Dusseldorf, Germany, in 1990 I tried for the first time thick white asparagus, said to be a specialty of the region. They were right. They were extraordinary, a taste I have never had duplicated in America. 

At one of my favorite New York City restaurants, Chez Josephine, I am partial to the sautéed liver. Liver was to be avoided at all costs as a child. 

Gilda and I often eat sardines. My father enjoyed brisling sardines. I thought they were revolting. 

No doubt, each of you today consume foods you ran away from as children. Not to leave you wondering if there were any foods I actually liked back then, let me assure you I have retained an appreciation for stuffed cabbage, sautéed sweetbreads, homemade gefilte fish and matzo ball soup. And chocolate pudding topped off with a hefty dollop or two or three of whipped cream. My mother used to make My*T-*Fine pudding on the stove. As an added treat she would let me savor what was left inside the pot by sweeping my index finger on the streaked remains. I’m okay with today’s off-the-shelf, ready-to-eat version. As long as I have plenty of whipped cream. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Plummeting Elevator Sticks in My Mind

For seven years, from 1978 through 1986, I took the express elevator to the 95th floor of the John Hancock building in Chicago. From high above North Michigan Avenue on a clear night one could see for miles the straight as an arrow grid street pattern of the Second City laid out below. It was an exhilarating venue for a cocktail reception sponsored by my magazine, Chain Store Age, during the annual National Housewares Show in January. 

It was an express elevator in that very building (no longer called the John Hancock) that plummeted some 84 floors early Monday morning after two cables broke. Six passengers were traumatized by their near death experience before the elevator came to rest. As it was an express elevator there was no door in the shaft near the 11th floor where the car finally stopped its dramatic descent. 

Normally, when an elevator gets stuck between openings, rescuers align another car next to it, then unscrew the adjacent panels of the two cars to allow passengers to gingerly walk across the void to the safety of the functioning elevator. 

That’s what I had to do when an elevator I was riding in got stuck between the 13th and 14th floors of 425 Park Avenue. 

About 30 years ago, on a rainy work day, I decided not to venture outside to secure my lunch. Instead, as I had done on numerous occasions, I chose to fop my way off as one of the lawyers of Finley Kumble, a large legal firm with multiple floors in the building with a short-order staff cafeteria on the 14th floor. I descended from my sixth floor office to the lobby and entered the elevator bank that would take me to the 14th floor. Sandwich and soda in bag in hand, I re-entered the elevator with two Finley Kumble associates, one man, one woman, no wiser to their fellow traveler’s interloper status.

The doors closed. We started our controlled descent. Suddenly, we stopped. Between floors. No panic. Building security quickly contacted us through the elevator telephone. They’d have us out in no time, they said.

“No time” dragged on for more than half an hour. It was now close to 1 pm. I was hungry. I had my lunch with me, but reasoned if I broke out the goodies I’d be obligated to share with my elevator companions. I’m embarrassed to say I was not in favor of that option, at least not then. Perhaps if hours went by and everyone had expressed hunger pains I’d be more forthcoming with my food. I opted to hold out. 

Almost an hour after our interrupted journey, building security advised the elevator could not be restarted. To extract us from our vertical shell, they would have to line up another elevator next to ours, remove the side panels of both transports and have us walk across the exposed elevator shafts to the working elevator. 

Trepidation, not yet panic, set in. We joked it would be like walking across a log over a stream. Of course, the stream would be about 10 or more stories below. When the technicians entered our car, they cautioned us not to look down, to just walk naturally across the chasm into the adjacent elevator. 

In truth, the distance was probably no wider than two feet, a regular stride, for me, at least. Still, I was sufficiently repentant to believe someone was sending me a message my not-so-legal use of the Finley Kumble cafeteria was not kosher, if you get my drift. I never returned to the Finley Kumble cafeteria.

Returning to the present elevator mishap, extracting the passengers was not as easy. Rescuers had to cut a hole through the concrete wall of the shaft to pull the passengers out.  

Will those six passengers ever again be able to comfortably ride in a high rise elevator? Perhaps. Keep in mind, survivors of airplane crashes fly again. Car crashes don’t stop people from motoring again. Train wrecks don’t keep survivors off the rails. Still, I just wonder …

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Passing of a Corporate Gadfly

Among the tasks I assigned my staff and myself as editor and publisher of Chain Store Age was attending annual shareholders meetings of public retail companies. We would travel all over the country. To Minneapolis for Target, or as it was formerly known, Dayton Hudson. To Cincinnati for Federated Department Stores. To Bentonville, Ark., for Walmart. To Toronto for Campeau Corp., the real estate company that bought Federated and Allied Stores in an ill-fated attempt to marry shopping center ownership with department store companies. To Troy, Mich., for Kmart. Some retailers, like Woolworth and Sears, held meetings in different cities each year. So did J.C. Penney. 

During one of Penney’s meetings in New York in the late 1980s, attended by more than 500 shareholders, the highlight, or lowlight, depending on your point of view, was the shareholder question and answer period. 

(Now, if you never experienced an annual stockholders meeting, let me advise you they are mostly dry affairs. Corporate recitations of sales and earnings with a few pronouncements of new strategic initiatives. Sounds boring, and they are. My staff attended them because they often were the only time we had access to top executives as they usually held press conferences before or after the meeting). 

Most of the shareholders in the audience were current or retired company employees concerned their retirement pensions and benefits were not being jeopardized by mismanagement or profligate management.  

And then there were the corporate gadflies who challenged companies to be more transparent and democratic. Gadflies held stock in dozens if not hundreds of companies. They would criss-cross the country to pester executives with arcane, sometimes inane, inquiries. 

The most prominent of these stockholder gadflies were the Gilbert brothers and Evelyn Y. Davis. They did not like each other. At times they quarreled openly during meetings, the chairmen being unable to referee their repartee. 

I bring all this to your attention because Evelyn Y. Davis died Sunday. She was 89 (https://nyti.ms/2yYfr4h). She was unmistakeable. The New York Times obituary commented on her notable apparel. But it was her sharp Dutch-accented voice that impressed her presence on me, so much so that some 20 years later, while listening to but not watching a White House press conference, I was instantly drawn to the television when I heard her distinctive voice. 

Evelyn always got the microphone at corporate meetings. At the aforementioned Penney meeting she asked then chairman and CEO William Howell if the company was a fashion retailer. For sure, Howell replied. To which Evelyn wanted to know, why then did the wife of the vice president of merchandising wear a naugahyde dress to a recent fashion event? After the audience stopped laughing, Howell said he could offer no explanation. 

I haven’t been to an annual shareholders meeting in more than a dozen years. I am not aware if gadflies still exist to torment current chairmen. The Gilbert brothers are long gone as now so too is Evelyn Y. Davis. I’m glad I had the opportunity to witness them at the peak of their dedication to enlightened corporate governance. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Election Fallout Could Include a Mueller Move

When you poured yourself a drink after Tuesday’s election results came in, was the glass half full or half empty? It was that type of election. Or, to use a sports metaphor, it was like kissing your sister.

The spin doctors were out in force putting lipstick on their respective piggy campaigns. Depending on who parsed the results, Republicans had a good day fending off what turned out to be a blue splash by padding their control of the Senate, or Democrats enjoyed a blue wave in taking back control of the House of Representatives. 

The egoist-in-chief trumpeted his active campaigning in pushing several Republicans to victory while singling out in a press conference Wednesday those GOP House candidates who chose not to embrace him and subsequently lost. 

Republicans gloated about winning high profile governor races in Georgia and Florida; Democrats took solace that their margins of defeat were within a hair breadth of winning. Democrats captured seven governorships and labeled victories in the battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin as harbingers of success in the 2020 presidential election. 

The evils of one party rule in Washington were universally decried by Democrats as they campaigned this fall. They exulted in taking back the House, giving them the opportunity come January to provide a constitutional check and balance to Trump initiatives. 

But even as Democrats reveled in that prospect, New York State Democrats basked in the prospective glow of one party rule now that majorities in the state senate and assembly, and governor, belong to the same party. 

Florida proved to be enigmatic. I heard that a reported 19% of black women rejected Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee seeking to become the state’s first African-American governor. Hard to believe. Gillum apparently lost by some 50,000 votes, about 0.6 percentage points. 

Some attribute the loss to latent racial bias. Yet, 64% of voters approved a voter reform amendment to the state constitution that reinstated voting rights to most felons who have completed their sentence. The measure has the potential to re-enfranchise some 1.4 million men and women, one-third of whom are people of color and expected to be Democratic leaning. 

Approving that referendum doesn’t equate with rejecting Gillum. 

The impact of those potential voters has national implications given Florida’s importance in presidential elections. 

Don’t count those voter chickens too soon, however. As civil rights attorneys Danielle Lang and Thea Sebastian noted in a Nov. 1 Op-Ed in The New York Times, “Those who have completed their sentences are all too often prevented from casting ballots simply because they have unpaid court fines and fees” (https://nyti.ms/2CTnDp8). Florida and six other states have laws that deny the vote to people who owe court debt, sums that often are beyond the means of felons.     

Trump’s press conference Wednesday displayed the contentious spirit that has settled on his relationship with the media. Neither side came off as a winner. Trump sounded conciliatory toward the press and toward Democrats, but said a less combative tone going forward would be contingent on their pleasing him. In other words, no negative stories and no congressional investigations. My way, or war would be waged.

The first salvo in that new “charm” offensive came shortly after the press conference ended when it was announced Attorney General Jeff Sessions had resigned under pressure and been replaced by his chief of staff, Matthew G. Whitaker, as acting attorney general. Whitaker is on record as not being a fan of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and other questionable activities by Trump and his associates. 

If the Mueller probe is compromised by Whitaker, keep in mind that Mueller is a former Marine. Marines don’t back down and are committed to completing their mission. It would be within the realm of expectation that Mueller might associate with another more friendly investigative body, namely the House Judiciary Committee under the chairmanship of Democrat Adam Schiff come January. Schiff already is an outspoken critic of the Trump administration and its possible ties to Russia. 

Friday, November 2, 2018

Tuesday's Vote: A Choice Between Democracy and Greed

The latest employment numbers show a vibrant economy, a continuation of the return from recession inherited from the Republicans initiated by Barack Obama. Jobs increased by 250,000 last month. 

So, as we approach midterm election day Tuesday, what will it be people: Your wallet or your way of life? Your 401k or your democracy? Your bank account or your country?

Think carefully. Think long term. Just as tigers don’t lose their stripes, leopards retain their spots, Republicans stay true to their core beliefs: In their hearts they oppose Social Security, any form of welfare, Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act (especially its pre-existing condition coverage benefit), civil rights, worker rights, unions, voting rights, public housing programs and an assortment of other programs that provide comfort to average Americans and the land, sea and air we inhabit. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has evil intentions for social service programs. He is not shy about stating his plan, should Republicans maintain their majorities in the Senate and House, to strip away some Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid benefits. Why? To pay for the GOP tax plan that has skyrocketed the national debt while lavishing huge savings on the rich but providing paltry amounts to the middle class and working class. It has been such a disaster that Donald Trump has been forced to promise a 10% middle class tax cut.

Of course, Trump also acknowledged that he often does not tell the truth. He lies, in other words, to push his plans forward, to gain an advantage from a gullible public. For anyone who heard or read his admission, the operative question is, how could you trust him? Even when promising the tax relief Trump undercut his truth by saying Congress would act on the proposal in early November, never realizing that Congress would be on recess until after November 6. Only a fool would believe Republicans would follow through on Trump’s middle class handout. 

Surprise, surprise, surprise. No, this is not a paean to Gomer Pyle. Rather it is a sarcastic commentary on a recent report asserting the Trump tax reform bill benefitted White people more than Blacks and Hispanics. Of course, some might denigrate the report since it came from a liberal think tank. 

But seriously, even conservatives should not be surprised by the elemental truth that tax relief has been more lopsided for rich white Americans than for lower and middle class minorities.

Nobody relishes paying taxes, though my father used to say he wouldn’t mind if he owed the IRS $100,000 as that would mean he earned a heck of a lot of money that year. 

We need some perspective when it comes to taxes. Without them, roads wouldn’t be built or maintained. Public water systems and waste treatment plants would not function. Food and medicine safety would not be monitored. Public safety and our military would disappear. Ah, socialism at its best. 

The grand experiment of doing away with many taxes and government services proved to be a disaster in Kansas. Striking the right balance of taxes and services is the holy grail of politics. 

Which brings us to the elections Tuesday.  

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Lord Acton of Britain had it right when he coined the phrase in the late 1800s. Republicans currently have near absolute power in Washington. Rather than draining the swamp, as he promised, Trump has installed acolytes who are corrupting the government, even as he and his family milk  their tenure for undisclosed profits. 

The Founders of our country foresaw the need for checks and balances so that absolute power could be restrained. It is in our electoral power to install a check on Trumpism. 

Positive economic news is a powerful incentive to vote Republican. But that is a short term view. A true patriot considers the health and welfare of his/her country and all its citizens and residents, not their personal bank roll, before casting a vote. A deliberate voter discounts the fear-mongering spouted by those who seek to retain their absolute power.  

It is imperative that everyone vote like your future depended on it, vote like your children’s future depended on it, vote like your grandchildren’s future depended on it. 

With that in mind, here’s a word from our guiding mantra:

Vote VOTE vote vOte voTe votE 
Vote VOTE vote vOte voTe votE 
Vote VOTE vote vOte voTe votE 
Vote VOTE vote vOte voTe votE 
Vote VOTE vote vOte voTe votE 
Vote VOTE vote vOte voTe votE 
Vote VOTE vote vOte voTe votE 

Vote VOTE vote vOte voTe votE 
Vote VOTE vote vOte voTe votE 
Vote VOTE vote vOte voTe votE 
Vote VOTE vote vOte voTe votE 
Vote VOTE vote vOte voTe votE 
Vote VOTE vote vOte voTe votE 
Vote VOTE vote vOte voTe votE 

Vote VOTE vote vOte voTe votE 
Vote VOTE vote vOte voTe votE 
Vote VOTE vote vOte voTe votE 
Vote VOTE vote vOte voTe votE 
Vote VOTE vote vOte voTe votE 
Vote VOTE vote vOte voTe votE 

Vote VOTE vote vOte voTe votE 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Trump the Nationalist Opts to be the Provocateur-in-Chief, not the Comforter-in-Chief

Over the last 40 years I’ve been to Pittsburgh numerous times, mostly for work to meet retailers and walk their stores, but also for pleasure. Our family checked out Carnegie Mellon University before Dan chose Tufts. We returned to Carnegie Mellon a few years later when Ellie participated in a summer theater program for high schoolers. Our niece Julie and fiancé Matt attended graduate schools in Pittsburgh and opted to marry there. During those non business trips, visiting Squirrel Hill was invariably a part of our Steel City itinerary. 

Unless you are a devotee of everything modern with sharp edges and crisp lines, you would fall in love with Squirrel Hill. Every home is unique. Each residence conveys the theme that families live in distinctly individual homes in concert with their neighbors. Naturally, it was the neighborhood Fred Rogers chose to live in. 

The Tree of Life Synagogue is an imposing structure near one fringe of Squirrel Hill. 

Tree of Life. In Hebrew it is Etz Hayim. The first reference in the Bible to the phrase “tree of life” comes in Genesis 2, verse 9: “And from the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that was pleasing to the sight and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and bad.”

When Jews refer to Etz Hayim it is not meant as a symbol of eternal life. Rather, it conveys their dedication to the precepts embodied in the Torah. When the Torah scroll is returned to the ark after it is read during services the prayer chanted concludes with the following affirmation: “I have given you a precious inheritance. Do not forsake my teaching. It is a Tree of Life for those who grasp it, and all who hold onto it are blessed. Its ways are pleasant, and all its paths are peace.”

How cruel that a horrific death, not a peaceful end of life, visited the Tree of Life sanctuary in Pittsburgh Saturday morning. How grotesquely ironic that it was the morning when a brit milah, a ritual circumcision, was to be held welcoming a newborn male into the Jewish faith and its covenant with God.

It is irrefutable, demons affected Robert Bowers. His hatred of Jews, the social programs they support and the presence of immigrants simmered into a boiling point that drove him to kill 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue and to spout to police his desire to kill all Jews. 

Considered as a lone act of anti-Semitism, xenophobia  and religious intolerance, one could dismiss Bowers as a societal aberrant. But the number of anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic and religious bigotry incidents has multiplied in the last two years. Coincidence that those years coincide with Donald Trump’s campaign and election? Hardly.

Those who don’t see a direct correlation between Trump’s divisive rhetoric and the increase in hate crimes are deluding themselves and enabling miscreants among us to step out of the shadows, march openly and, in the most extreme circumstances, act out their lethal, bigoted manifesto. 

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump’s rhetoric by saying his intent was to vocalize differences in “policy” as a lead up to the election and beyond. But how is name calling a “policy?” How is demeaning women, or Mexicans, or Moslems a “policy?” Is it an appropriate “policy” to suggest that neo Nazis shouting anti-Semitic tropes are good people, comparable to those who protest their freedom to march? 

Trump says he is a “nationalist.” How much clearer could Trump be to the white nationalists who profess the same extreme bile Bowers digested and spewed forth. Almost everything Trump says and does, including retweeting white nationalist code words, reinforces his antipathy toward ethnic groups. 

The latest example is his desire to circumvent a key portion of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. He wants to do away with birthright citizenship, the right of anyone born in the United States to claim citizenship even if their mother came to our country illegally. 

One can argue the legitimacy of the need for such a position as a means to control illegal immigration, but Trump elevated the discussion to the level of autocrat versus (small d) democrat. 

I can’t fault Trump for wanting to alter the consequences of the 14th Amendment. After all, he doesn’t like the law.

But a president cannot unilaterally change the Constitution. Amendments to the Constitution cannot be tossed aside by executive order as Trump has posited. Amendments must be repealed. It’s a complex process. Not even Congress has the exclusive power to change the Constitution. One way is for Congress and three-quarters of the states do pass a repeal or further amendment. 

Trump and his reactionary advisors might believe the presidency imbues imperialistic, autocratic powers, but a precise reading of the amendment’s wording is clear: 

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Trump hangs his argument on the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” asserting that illegal aliens are not under U.S. jurisdiction. Clearly, Trump would prosecute any illegal immigrant charged with committing a murder, thus implying that the accused indeed was under U.S. jurisdiction. (For a more lawyerly analysis why Trump’s plan is faulty, click https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/10/31/trump-wants-to-change-the-rules-of-citizenship-here-are-three-reasons-his-proposal-might-be-unconstitutional/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.ca5cc12d6d21).

Still, Trump’s advisors, presumably constitutional mavens, are advising he pursue the action, which raises troubling issues: Are these the people who are suggesting nominations to the federal judiciary? And, now that Trump has packed the Supreme Court with two hard-right justices, will they be part of a majority opinion that validates his power grab? 

Just as Bowers has a “loose screw” to have perpetrated despicable murders, Trump, as well, lacks a full set of emotional genes. His near first reaction to the shooting was to blame the victims and their fellow congregants for not employing an armed guard. Never mind that four heavily armed policemen were shot while trying to subdue the assailant. 

For Trump the massacre in Pittsburgh was business as usual. Presented with an opportunity to be the comforter-in-chief to a community and nation shocked with grief, he chose instead to again play the provocateur-in-chief, as he did after the white nationalist march on Charlottesville.

He will not change. We should stop wishing he would. We can only hope enough voters comprehend the dangerous precipice on which our republic now rests. Tuesday we will find out if they do.