Friday, January 31, 2020

If Not Impeachment, How About Censure?

What can we take away from Trump’s pending impeachment acquittal by the U.S. Senate next Wednesday? That it was a foregone conclusion given the Republican majority? For sure. That it was a flawed indictment by Democrats? Perhaps. That politics—the raw calculus of survival—has overtaken allegiance to the Constitution? Woe to us all, FOR SURE!

How ironic that on a Friday, the last day of creation according to the Bible the Republican Party forever touts as a seminal element of the Founding Fathers’ thinking, Republican Senators voted to kill our constitutional republic. The so called “greatest deliberative body of the world” was too cowed and cowardly to hear what witnesses might reveal about their demigod Trump. Too much revelation to deliberate. 

Acquittal was never really in doubt. We live in too polarized a political climate to have expected anything else given the number required (67) to convict. But to reject the plea to hear relevant witnesses, especially former national security advisor John Bolton who alleges Trump told him aid to Ukraine was tied to its investigation of Joe Biden and his son Hunter, the Republican controlled Senate enabled Americans and the rest of the world to witness the total capitulation of a once-proud political party to the whims and sleaziness of its leader. Truly astonishing.

And shameful. We are not a banana republic. We are much worse, for Republicans will still claim we are a vibrant democracy, even as Trump skewers congressional oversight by disposing checks and balances into the waste basket of history. 

Trump has a history of ruining reputations. From Sean Spicer to Gary Cohen to generals Kelly, McMaster and Mattis, working for Trump has been a sure-fire way to get a reduction in rank for respect. 

Republican senators have gone AWOL on their ethics and conscience. I’ll leave it to Susan B. Glasser of The New Yorker to pronounce judgment on their charade of objectivity, particularly by Lamar Alexander of Tennessee:

Now, some may say talk of the fall of democracy is hyperbole. After all, we have an election in November. The people will get their chance to vote on Trump’s legitimacy and continuation as president.

Really? After we have witnessed Trump openly work to undermine our elections by soliciting foreign government interference, after he questioned the validity of the 2016 results before and after he won, after he has repeatedly lied on small and large matters, after his cult followers in the House and Senate have failed to hold him to the same standards of truth and transparency they demanded of his predecessors, after he has whipsawed any and all critics? An acquitted Trump will have no fear, no boundaries in his pursuit of a second term, or longer.

Time and again Republican senators Friday acknowledged Trump had been “inappropriate” in asking Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his political rival Joe Biden. But inappropriateness does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense, they argued.

How about the next best option, then? Will the Senate vote to censure Trump? That would be a face-saving vote for any senator looking to salvage his or her legacy. But don’t bet on it, as Trump, no doubt, would tar and feather any Republican who voted for censure. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Memories from Holocaust Memorial Day

My grandparents—my father’s parents—Moses and Lina Fürsetzer, never made it to Auschwitz. Neither did my Uncle Max. Nor Aunt Klara. Neither did Uncle Willy’s wife and son.

Like almost all the 1,200 Jews of Ottynia in Galicia, in what is now Ukraine but back in 1941 was a small town in Poland, they were taken to a nearby forest and gunned down by Nazis and their local henchmen.

Willy evaded death that day because he already had been hiding in fields and, sometimes, in barns belonging to sympathetic peasants. He hid for some two years until the Russian army liberated the sector at which point he was drafted and sent to Siberia for military training.

In America since January 1939 my father knew nothing of his family’s fate as the few postcards that managed to come from his mother stopped arriving in the mid 1941. The progression of the war can be discerned from their stamps and postmarks. Polish stamps on the first. Russian stamps with CCCP letters on the second reflecting Ottynia’s location in the half of Poland controlled by the Soviet Union as part of the country’s partition with Germany in September 1939. CCCP stamps on the last postcard as well, but a fading postmark of a flying eagle carrying a swastika in its talons conveyed a message of impending doom.

After the war my father reunited with Willy in New York but the two never talked to their American families about what happened in Ottynia. Until one Passover about 30 years ago when my brother Bernie and I videotaped their memories of life in the shtetl and got Willy to recount his harrowing evasion from death.

We have no idea what happened to my mother’s family. Her father, Louis Gerson, perhaps Gershonovitz before being anglicized at Ellis Island, came to New York in 1920. His wife Sarah and their four children—Solomon, Pola, Sylvia (my mother) and Vicky—arrived in 1921. A fourth daughter, Lily, was born in America.

The Gersons came from Lodz, one of Poland’s largest cities. During World War II the Nazis confined Jews from the region in the Lodz ghetto, one of the most populous they established in conquered territories. Hundreds of thousands lived in the ghetto before dying there or being transported to concentration and extermination camps. 

I have no doubt members of the Gerson family were among the dead. My mother and her sisters never talked about it. Louis and Sarah died in 1951 and 1955, respectively.

As I have previously written about our experience at  Auschwitz I had not intended to write anything about the commemoration of the liberation of the death camp 75 years ago Monday (use the search engine at the top of the blog to read past articles about Auschwitz). 

Amidst all the articles on the impeachment trial and international commemorations of the liberation of Auschwitz, perhaps you missed a 5-4 Supreme Court decision that permitted the Trump administration to proceed with a plan to deny green cards to immigrants who might need public benefits like Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers. The plan is being contested in court, but the justices permitted interim implementation (

Now Trump’s plan should be an impeachable offense. Not on a legal basis. On a moral one. Trump says he is against chain migration yet that is how his current wife’s parents came here. He is against illegal migrants working here but his resorts and golf courses routinely employ illegals.

 How many of our ancestors would not have been granted entry to America had Trump’s heartless guidelines been in effect when they landed on our shores?

From rags to riches is a foundational American story. Yet Trump’s policies would probably kibosh that ever happening again for an immigrant.

Auschwitz and Holocaust Memorial Day are reminders not only of mankind’s potential bestiality but also of what may transpire when people who have the power to help don’t. When people and governments who could extend comfort and protection don’t. When leaders hide behind conventions of government and do nothing instead of rising to the occasion to show their humanity.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Are You an ABT Voter—Anyone But Trump?

Are you an ABT voter—Anyone But Trump?

Wait. Before we get into the original subject of this blog, let me aver that I believe The New York Times, specifically columnist Bret Stephens, must have hacked my iPhone. Heck, if Jeff Bezos’ iPhone could be hacked, who am I to think mine couldn’t, especially when it contains a really juicy story idea about ABT voters. And to show you how nefariously ingenious The Times’ caper is, the paper also ran an Op-Ed piece entitled “Jeff Bezos’ Phone Hack Should Terrify Everyone” (, directly above a Stephens article on ABT voters. How cunning to try to misdirect the scent of the crime from its editorial room.

Late last week I started writing a blog on ABT. As I often do, I wrote the beginning on my iPhone in bed before sleep stopped my progress. But I couldn’t fall into deep slumber. Too much on my mind. Too many tasks to accomplish. So I wrote a To Do list in my iPhone before finally allowing zzzz’s to overwhelm my consciousness.

Not suspecting any skulduggery I posted a Friday blog on my recent purchases of cardigans instead of the Anyone But Trump theme.

Imagine my excitement then when Saturday afternoon I opened The Times to see the following headline:
“Anyone But Trump? Not So Fast,” a column by Bret Stephens printed directly under the aforementioned opinion piece on Jeff Bezos ( 

I quickly checked my iPhone for literary comparisons to what Stephens wrote. After all, it is not uncommon for good ideas to simultaneously formulate in the minds of several journalists. That’s when the hacking was “revealed” to me. Revealed might not be the right term, for my ABT story and my To Do list were nowhere to be found in my iPhone.

Now, some of you might be thinking I just forgot to save the ABT story. You know, you’re thinking he’s already admitted to being “old,” another synonym for forgetful or just plain tech-challenged. Yeah, true on all counts. But why would I lose the To Do list, as well? I’m thinking The Times hackers stole that file to really mess with my sanity.

I’ve no proof for these wild allegations. Just a deep-seated journalist’s hunch. Or more probably, a pixieish imagination. Anyway, time to talk about ABT and Stephens’ analysis.

I am an ABTer, though I admit I am not enthusiastic about any of the choices Democrats are proffering. There’s goodness in most of them and cautionary traits as well. Unlike many punsters on the left and right I do not fear a Warren or Sanders presidency tilting our government too much to the extreme. None of the Democratic candidates has the bellicosity Trump has displayed to cower the party into cult-like submission. Any Democratic president will have to work with Democrats in Congress to forge consensus, middle of the road changes that first and foremost restore progress achieved in the Obama years to environmental, civil rights, labor, health care, and abortion rights causes, to name a few initiatives. 

Anyone, I believe, would be better than Trump. 

In offering a defense against Trump’s impeachment, Stephens wrote, “First, the argument (for impeachment) overstates the extent to which this presidency has eroded the foundations of liberal democracy at home and abroad. Has Trump abandoned NATO? No. Has he lifted sanctions on Russia? No. Has he closed the borders to all immigrants? No. Did the president steal the midterms, or stop Congress from impeaching him? No. Has he significantly suppressed the press? Again, no.”

I disagree.  Has Trump weakened respect for the judiciary? Yes. Has he weakened our constitutional checks and balances system of government? Yes. Has Trump strained relations with allies? Yes. Has he eroded the credibility of our intelligence and law enforcement services? Yes. Has Trump strengthened the dark forces of white nationalists? Yes. Has he emboldened despots and autocrats around the globe? Yes. Has Trump corroded America’s historic values? Yes. Has he debased the bond our word used to be throughout the world? Yes. Has Trump made lies and falsehoods the new standard of presidential speak? Yes. Has he made Americans and the rest of the world lose trust in what America stands for? Yes.

But all of those actions do not rise to the level of an impeachable offense. They just show he is a bad, dangerous president. 

What are impeachable offenses are his attempt to extort Ukraine into interfering in the 2020 election by announcing a corruption investigation into his political rival, Joe Biden, in return for a White House meeting and the transfer of withheld military aid approved by Congress, and the obstruction of the House of Representative’s probe of his actions by refusing to release documents and allowing his aides to testify about the Ukrainian affair. 

Stephens and I shared an editorial construct. But we diverged in our execution. I prefer mine to his. I hope you do, too.

Wimping Out: While I’m blasting away at The Times, let me also opine that the flagship newspaper of American journalism wimped out when it came to its dual endorsement of Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar as the best choices for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. 

I’m not against the failure to choose a singular candidate. Rather, what immediately struck me as cowardly is the decision to publish the joint endorsement on a Monday, not on Sunday. 

I know that Monday, January 20, coincided with commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and was exactly one year prior to the inauguration of our next president, but if The Times wanted the biggest bang for its buck it would have printed its choices in the issue with the largest circulation of the week (1,087,500 copies)—the Sunday edition—which enjoys readership almost double that of the weekday issues (571,500).  

Friday, January 24, 2020

How Do I Know I'm Old? I Keep Buying Cardigans

I am officially an old man.

Why do I say this? Simple. Over the last month I have bought four sweaters—all button down cardigans. To accommodate them in my dresser I have removed an equal number of pullover sweaters. The new batch of cardigans joins a similar number already ensconced in my dresser drawers. 

Six weeks shy of my 71st birthday I cannot say that I am dressing like my father as he almost never wore any type of sweater, though I do recall a thin grey cardigan that sometimes made an appearance in our home. Never outside. 

He never wore a pullover sweater, not that he feared his mostly bald crown would be mussed up. He had suffered from bursitis in his shoulder and sought to avoid having to extend his arms above his head to put on a pullover sweater. I, on the other hand, am still blessed with an almost full head of hair (naturally brown, not tinted as some of my friends have assumed because of my lack of grey hairs). My reluctance to pull on a sweater has to do with not disturbing my coiffure. 

Come to think of it, I cannot conjure up any memory of my father dressed what we today would call “casually.” He never wore jeans (except when stretched out on our kitchen floor fixing the dishwasher). Or chinos. If we were going out for a dinner at a delicatessen or slightly more upscale restaurant he wore a suit, usually with a tie. Fathers did that back in the 1950s and 1960s. Anyone who has seen situation comedies from that era, “I Love Lucy” or “The Donna Reed Show” or “Leave It to Beaver,” knows I am right. The only men not in suits were working class stiffs like the husbands in “The Life of Riley” or “The Honeymooners.”

My father was a boss. A garment manufacturer. Suits and ties comprised his wardrobe, though he took his jacket off the minute he opened his factory on lower Broadway every day around 8 am. Dress down to him was not wearing a tie. Actually, “dress down” was not even a term of reference back then.

Though he didn’t change into casual clothing when he came home from work he did remove his tie and suit jacket before sitting down to dinner. He would turn his chair slightly to the right, a habit I have subconsciously taken to doing as well. By the end of the meal he had loosened his belt and unbuttoned his pants at the waist (not something I have emulated).  

I bought my first two cardigans, one black, the other winter white, some 10 years ago during a trip to northern England and Edinburgh, Scotland, with our dearest friends Dave and Gemma. I had seen the zippered cardigans in Next, a British chain store, but had demurred buying them. Once back home, I regretted my decision. Fortunately, I was able to prevail upon our friends to buy and ship them to me. Whenever I wear one I am reminded of that and subsequent trips to their home in the small village of Crookham, Cornhill-on-Tweed, Northumberland, where sweaters of all types are standard pieces of everyday apparel. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Bolton's Time To Step Up, His Profile in Courage, Is Now, Before It Is Too Late

The integrity of the United States of America as a constitutional republic where no one is above the law now resides inside the conscience of John Bolton.

Donald Trump’s former national security advisor is said to claim to have pertinent first-hand knowledge of Trump’s innocence or culpability to the impeachment charges that he abused the powers of his office by trying to coerce the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation into his political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter in exchange for a White House meeting with Ukraine’s president and for releasing congressionally approved military assistance in Ukraine’s fight against Russian-backed insurgents. Trump is also charged with obstructing the House investigation.

Bolton had been portrayed by witnesses during the House impeachment inquiry as being opposed to the withholding of aid. Yet he didn’t testify. Now he says he would talk if subpoenaed, but the Republican-controlled Senate refuses to call him.

The dilemma Bolton faces is comparable to an unidentified eyewitness to a murder whose testimony could convict or exonerate an accused. Does the witness come forward or remain silent, thus risking either the release of a killer or incarceration, even execution, of an innocent defendant?

At a Wednesday press conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Trump said he fears Bolton could reveal presidential thoughts on foreign leaders, thus making his job as president harder. (An understandable argument for executive privilege keeping Bolton silent.) He also cast doubt on Bolton’s objectivity since he left the White House under strained relations which Trump indicated were his, not Bolton’s, fault. (A deft way of undercutting Bolton’s credibility.)

Now is Bolton’s “profile in courage” moment. Having teased that he knows something about Trump’s actions in the Ukraine affair, he must publicly declare his knowledge, if not in front of the Senate then in a forum available to all citizens, on television or in print, BEFORE the Senate votes guilty or not guilty on the impeachment charges.

If what Bolton knows upholds Trump’s claim of innocence, so be it. No harm, no foul. Tellingly, it would go a long way in erasing any doubts the public might have that a coverup exists.

But if his testimony would undercut Trump’s innocence, it would be injurious to the nation if Bolton remained silent. There is no guarantee the Senate would convict based on Bolton’s words alone, but a statement from Bolton could uncork additional evidence and testimony from aides Trump has heretofore bottled up. 

The integrity of our government cannot be placed at risk by Bolton’s silence. Bolton’s government service has had a checkered history. He was one of the champions of the Iraqi war on the pretense Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He has been a hawk on issues of national defense and security. 

Honest leaders may disagree on those positions. But it is inconceivable that anyone with relevant information concerning the impeachment trial of a president could knowingly and willfully withhold such information from the Senate and the American public. 

Inaction is not an option for Bolton. The time for him to step up is immediate. It is now. Before it is too late.

Monday, January 20, 2020

David Glass, a Successful Successor; Tumbling Tumbleweeds and a First Date

Successful Successor: You probably know the name Sam Walton. He’s the small town Arkansas retailer who turned a five-and-dime chain store operation—the largest Ben Franklin variety store franchise in 1962—into what is now the largest retail company in the world, Walmart. Sam (I’m entitled to call him by his first name because I knew him and, more importantly, he knew me) was as much a showman as a retailer. He knew how to get the most out of people, whether they were store managers, headquarters buyers, truck drivers or cashiers. 

Another aspect of Walton’s success was his ability to spot and employ talent. He chose David Glass years before Glass succumbed to the call from Bentonville, Ark., to become the chief financial officer of a chain with less than a billion dollars in sales. As flamboyant and media savvy as Walton was, Glass was the opposite. Glass was a numbers man. Though he had a dry sense of humor, he was mostly taciturn in public. He let the numbers do most of his talking. 

Glass (I could call him David, for we knew each other, as well) championed supercenters, the cavernous combination of discount stores with a full-fledged grocery, as he had worked for a supermarket chain prior to joining Walmart. His advocacy was spot on. Walmart today sells more grocery items than anyone else in the world. 

When Walton retired as CEO in 1988, Glass succeeded him. During his 12 years at the helm, Walmart sales grew from $16 billion to $165 billion. He pursued international expansion. 

News broke over the weekend that Glass died January 9 from complications from pneumonia. He was 84.

After his retirement in 2000, Glass indulged his passion for baseball by buying the Kansas City Royals. For years the Royals struggled under Glass’ Walmart-inspired low-cost creed. But in 2006 he reversed course, hired Dayton Moore as general manager and started investing in personnel. The Royals won the World Series in 2015. Last year Glass sold the franchise for about $1 billion. Not bad for his initial $96 million investment.

As much as Glass was instrumental for Walmart’s success, it was his time before the NBC Dateline television camera that sticks in my mind. He was not the most approachable of Walmart executives. Behind his resonant baritone voice and wry sense of humor, I always suspected he did not like sharing anything with the press. 

His signature moment with the media occurred in December 1992 on NBC Dateline. Glass was confronted with allegations Walmart suppliers in Bangladesh employed underage child laborers, that the company’s vaunted Made in America program was a sham.

At the time, Glass had bushy, dark eyebrows that slanted up his forehead. With the Dateline camera angled from below his seat, he was the picture of Mephistopheles. He was the picture of evil incarnate.

Glass stormed out of the interview. Though he returned to face the Dateline cameras weeks later, the damage to his and Walmart’s reputation was done. 

Shortly after that incident Walmart professionalized its media relations office. Camera angles were to be scrutinized as diligently as profit and loss statements. 

Tumbling Tumbleweeds: The national weather has been frustratingly crazy of late. Torrential rainstorms. Tornadoes in the heartland and south. Heat waves in the northeast followed by a massive snowstorm blasting across the continent. And earlier this month a mess of tumbleweeds in the Pacific Northwest that buried cars and stalled traffic on a state highway in Washington (

Have you ever driven as a tumbleweed swirled into you? I have. It was a scary experience.

As I was motoring—okay, speeding—down an interstate outside Reno, NV, on my way to an interview at a JC Penney distribution center a wall of tumbleweeds three lanes wide was blowing towards me. There was no avoiding a collision. I braced for contact. 

When it happened I could do nothing more than smile at my naiveté. Had I not watched so many westerns to know tumbleweeds were mostly air? When my car penetrated the tumbleweed it was as if it evaporated before my eyes. 

It was a surreal experience. 

A Different Drummer: I just finished watching a CNN documentary recorded earlier this month about Linda Ronstadt. Like many I rank her as one of my all-time favorite singers. 

I first saw Ronstadt in concert at Brooklyn College in the fall of 1968. Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys were the opening act for Country Joe and the Fish. I can’t remember much about Country Joe, but from the moment Ronstadt started her group’s set by wailing “Different Drum” EVERYONE knew hers was a voice that couldn’t be contained within the walls of a concert hall. 

As an associate- and eventual chief editor of a college newspaper I scored free tickets, always in good locations, to many concerts. Not that tickets cost a lot back then. For a Joni Mitchell-Tim Hardin concert a month later ticket prices were $3.50, $3.00 and $2.50. In today’s dollars that would be $25.71, $22.04, and $18.37, respectively. 

College concerts back then mostly featured folk musicians and comedians. Gilda’s and my first date was a Tom Paxton-Dick Gregory concert in December 1969. Gilda asked me to accompany her to a Christmas party one of her political science teachers was hosting in his Brooklyn Heights apartment. I said I would go only if she was my date for the Paxton-Gregory concert. The rest, as they say, is 50 years and running history. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The list could go on. 

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Crouching in the Pews Before Hearing A Voice of Hate Transformed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second, intolerance flourishes when facts and truths are maligned.

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

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

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Why Are So Many Stores Closing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Three Plans to Solve Vexing Issues

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

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

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

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

We could and should do better. 

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

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

These penalties surely would get the attention of corporate officers. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plan 3—Contain anti-Semitism and BDS activists.

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

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

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

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