Thursday, September 21, 2023

Reflections on Joe Biden

For the most part I am content with the job Joseph Biden is doing as president. Yet, doubts about his ability to persevere for a full second term keep creeping into my calculus as his stiffness of gait and inappropriate ad-libs undermine my belief he could sustain the energy and mental dexterity required to lead our nation through January 20, 2029 (when I saw that last number, 2029, chills ran down my spine. How about yours? Still, compared to the presumptive Republican nominee, Biden is hands down my optimal choice.)

Which brings me to the question of age limits for politicians. It won’t happen in the near future, definitely not by 2024’s election, but I believe no person should run for office beyond their 75th year. Older pols could be tasked with responsibilities by an elected official, but they themselves should make way for candidates of a younger generation. 

Some advocate for term limits for senators and members of Congress. I do not. Experience is an asset. But once they are beyond their 75th birthday, our national legislators should be savvy enough to know when to gracefully exit the stage. We, and they, should be spared watching them cling to power as their bodies try to cling to normalcy. The specter of and infirm Diane Feinstein, 89, and Mitch McConnell, 80, weigh heavily on Senate watchers. Consider also Bernie Sanders, 81, Benjamin Cardin, 79, Jim Risch, 79, Richard Durbin, 78, and Angus King, 78. 

On the House side, 82-year-old Nancy Pelosi is still sharp as a tack. But the public shouldn’t have to rely on individual representatives to decide their fate. Pelosi was nice enough to cede her leadership position to a younger congressman. Having two-year terms makes it easier for House members to transition.  

Of course, it would take a constitutional amendment for an age limitation to be enacted. Meanwhile, we wait and see.

The competency of age-challenged officials also involves federal judges whose appointments are for life. A 96-year-old judge has been suspended because her colleagues questioned her mental fitness (

In Biden’s case, the discussion also centers on Kamala Harris and her viability as his running mate and potential successor before 2029. 

Since the beginning of the 20th century, there have been 24 vice presidents, eight of whom became president. Four—Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson—ascended to the office upon the death of the president; one, Gerald Ford took over upon Richard Nixon’s resignation. Ford failed to extend his stay in the White House by winning election in his own right, as the four others did. 

Four sought election to the White House directly after serving as vice president. Richard Nixon lost in 1960. Hubert Humphrey lost in 1968. Al Gore lost in 2000. George H.W. Bush won in 1988 (but lost reelection in 1992). 

Four years after leaving the vice presidency, Walter Mondale lost his bid for the presidency (1984), while Biden won his (2020). Nixon waited eight years for success (1968). 

Kamala Harris has led a mostly behind-the-scenes vice presidency. Biden needs her on the ticket to retain support from women and people of color. 

Is she ready, is she prepared to be president? Who knows? We do know that Truman was in the dark about many thinks FDR kept from him, including development of the atomic bomb. But that didn’t stop him from growing into the job and becoming a great president. 

Meanwhile, Joe Biden’s legacy as a strong advocate for tighter gun control legislation may face its greatest challenge with the prosecution of son Hunter Biden for allegedly lying on a federal form to acquire a handgun in 2018 and for being an illegal drug user in possession of the gun. 

Hunter Biden may well challenge the constitutionality of the charges. Given that the conservative Supreme Court has consistently knocked down laws that make it difficult to obtain firearms, the president’s son could be the channel by which drug users and other non violent criminals obtain an easier path to gun ownership. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

San Diego Memories

Have you ever had a possum scamper across your walking path in the hour before midnight?

I have and it spooked me, I am not ashamed to admit. It happened back in 1981 at the Town and Country Resort in San Diego where the discount store industry association was holding its annual executive conference. A short time before the surprisingly nimble and speedy possum startled me I had been schmoozing with the heads of retail chains like Jamesway, Fisher’s Big Wheel, and Zayre, companies no longer in existence, many victims of the retail juggernaut founded by the man who asked me the following: “What did I think of  Price Club?” 

Sam Walton wanted my opinion. One of Sam’s most endearing and egalitarian qualities was his pursuit of knowledge from any and all sources. As editor of Chain Store Age, a magazine he read, he thought I could possibly enlighten him about Price Club, the six-year-old San Diego-based warehouse wholesale club concept developed by Sol Price, a legendary retail entrepreneur. (Price Club eventually merged with Seattle-based Costco.) 

Sam Walton was looking for another vehicle to complement his Walmart discount stores. Price Club intrigued him. 

There were no Price Clubs or any other warehouse wholesale clubs in the east, so I had to sheepishly admit to Sam I had no first hand thoughts about Price Club. Sam, on the other hand, said he was intrigued by the concept. 

I made a point of sneaking into the members’ only Price Club on Morena Boulevard the next day. Ever since Costco opened in the New York area I’ve been an enthusiastic Costco shopper. 

Sam, meanwhile, wasted little time developing his knockoff. Sam’ Club opened two years later. For the last fiscal year ended January 31, 2023, Sam’s Clubs had $84.3 billion in sales from 600 U.S. locations. They produced an operating profit of $1.964 billion. 

Second Time, Baby On Board: My reminiscences about San Diego were prompted by the Sunday wedding of my sister’s daughter Lauren to Ofir in La Jolla just north of San Diego. 

Gilda and I first visited San Diego on vacation in 1978 while she was eight months pregnant with our first born. We returned the following year to attend the annual meeting of the Association of General Merchandise Chains representing companies like Woolworth, TG&Y, and Sprouse-Reitz. 

San Diego proper actually was not the locale of the conference. It was held at the Hotel del Coronado on nearby Coronado Island. A landmark all-wooden hotel opened in 1888, the Del was prominently featured in the classic comedy “Some Like It Hot.”

Every morning while I was conventioneering Gilda and not yet one-year-old Dan would enjoy breakfast on our room’s balcony. On the adjacent balcony a senior couple struck up a conversation. Turned out they were Trudy and Dick Groberg, Dick being newly named the vice president/group publications director of Chain Store Age. Obviously, he approved of spousal attendees at industry conferences. But did his liberalism extend to infants?  

I need not have worried. Gilda and Dan charmed the Grobergs at that conference and subsequent industry gatherings. As to the merits of her attendance at conferences, Gilda more than earned her presence. Over the years Gilda induced more industry contacts for me than I could have managed on my own. 

Third Time, Jewish Geography: A side benefit advertisers in Chain Store Age could access was a market presentation I provided at no charge. That’s how I came to be at the San Diego headquarters of Washington Inventory Service speaking to half a dozen or so executives. I spoke and answered questions for about an hour. 

That evening, responding to how his day went, John Pryor, told his wife Pat Launer he sat through a presentation from someone from New York. Who was he?, she asked. 

Just because you are from New York does not mean you know everyone from there, he replied. She persisted. He very reluctantly said my name which prompted enthusiastic screams from Pat as we had spent six years together at Camp Columbia in Elizaville, NY. 

Pat Launer was a force of nature at camp, a leading lady member of the Columbia Players acting group that staged Saturday night musicals for the staff every other week. Pat turned love of theater into a major part of her working life. She retired last year after 40 years as a theater critic. But she has done so much more, as you can discover by linking to her retirement message:

Pat’s first husband, Dana Launer, shared her enthusiasm for the footlights at Camp Columbia. He opted to work on camp maintenance rather than as a counselor. He’d drive around in the camp owner’s red Jeep, from one fix-it operation to another.

“Operation” was a fitting word, as Dana became a surgeon, specializing in colon and rectal surgery. Dana served two years as chief of staff of Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego. Dana passed away in 2010 


Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Remembering a One-of-a-Kind Friend and Talent

Family simchas, like the one Gilda and I attended in San Diego this past weekend—the marriage of our niece Lauren to Ofir—do not block out other, more somber, life cycle events. 

We heard Saturday morning of the passing of Milton Berwin. I’ve known Milton since the fall of 1978. He was the art director of my publications for close to 20 years. Over the years I worked with many art directors, none who possessed the love of literature Milton did. Moreover, Milt always took the time to read our stories before designing a page. 

In the pre-computer years of page layout, we would work together most afternoons, Milt chewing on an after lunch thin cigar as he held copy galleys in his hand, cutting them, pasting them on a page around a picture of a retail store, mostly interiors to show displays and, most importantly to him, customers to give the scene perspective. 

Never an easy man to get along with—cantankerous would be a mild description of his usual workplace demeanor, prompting one of his subordinates to throw a house iron at him (she missed)—Milton had mellowed, even becoming quite sentimental. 

He would read poetry to his partner of many years, Marianne, as they walked along the Hudson River. To the assembled friends and family at his 85th birthday party, he read the following poem by Robert McCrum:

I have learned, in short, that I am not

Immortal (the fantasy of youth)

and yet,

strangely, in the process I have been renewed

in my understanding of family and, finally,

of the only thing that matters:


Some might think Milt was no longer in his prime. He was, after all, 97, a veteran of World War II including service during the Battle of the Bulge. Yet he was still sharp of mind, funny, acerbic, creative, and only until recently during his near century-old life not a devoted exerciser at home or at the gym. 

Several of his paintings hang in our home, my favorite being a self-portrait that, to me, makes him look like a Portuguese fisherman. I become transfixed whenever I gaze upon it. It will be hard to accept the vibrant person staring back at me is no longer alive.

Sometime the words of another cannot be improved upon. They speak to one’s own thoughts and sentiments. Jay Forbes knew and worked with Milton even longer than I did at Lebhar-Friedman, publisher of Chain Store Age. He wrote to Milton’s decades-long partner Marianne the following tribute: 

“I am so sorry for your loss. Milt was an unforgettable guy in many respects. One of the first people I met when joining L-F, feisty, opinionated, talented, sharp as a tack and a premature curmudgeon at an early age. 

“He lived with an unrestrained passion, irrepressible, even when others carefully hid their feelings and conceded their true selves to conformity.

“I cannot express how wonderful it was to have seen him and yourself last year at that NYC diner, sharing a table with Roy, Walter and his partner and hearing him sing loudly and proudly every stanza of “Sunshine on my Shoulders” between courses while sharing memories of so long ago.

“He was a true original and I am glad someone of your intelligence and grace was able to be there for him as this force of nature slowly submitted to old age and finally succumbed. I know it will be hard for you but such is all our fate as we move down the path. I wish you many more good years and lasting memories.”