Anita Joy Hess Cohen, 1923-2017


The grandkids and greatgrandkids brought her much joy.

Longtime Litchfield, Ill., resident and businesswoman, my mother, Anita Joy Hess Cohen, succumbed to complications from Alzheimer’s disease and passed away in her sleep on Oct. 30 in Naples, Fla., her home for the last four-and-a-half years of her life. She was 94.


As co-owner for more than 40 years of the popular clothing emporiums Sidney’s Women’s Wear and Sidney’s Tot and Teen, she and my dad, the late Sidney Cohen, combed the apparel markets of Chicago, New York and Dallas to bring area women the latest fashions.


Anita commanded the Women’s Wear sales floor with a strong but warm personality she used to dole out a forthright, expert counsel that was sought by hundreds of Litchfield teen and adult women. She helped keep them dressed in clothing and accessories, be they serious, practical, whimsical, businesslike, flashy or modest, that complemented their looks, fit their personalities and added flair to their wardrobes. The Cohens retired and sold the business in the early 1990s but continued to live in the small, central Illinois town they had grown to love.

Anita Hess was born in Aberdeen, S.D., on April 20, 1923, and moved to Litchfield when she was nine years old with her parents Mel and Lillian Hess and younger sister Rhoda. Mel and Lil founded Hess Style Shop downtown, which became Sidney’s when the elders moved to Florida, and the Cohens took over the business. After attending Litchfield public schools, Anita graduated from the University of Illinois with a B.A. in sociology. In her senior year she met Sidney, who was back on campus after serving as a decorated naval officer in World War II. They married in October 1946 and were together 57 years, until my dad passed away in 2003.

dsc_0001.jpgA lover of games and competition, an avid golfer and bridge player, Anita also loved the peace of walking around Litchfield. At some point she began picking up aluminum cans as she walked, and to many in town she was known as “the can lady.”

She was an accomplished gardener who lit up her yard with flowers and gloried in yard work and gardening through her 80s. In fact, many of the IMG_1787perennial plants that bloom in our yard here in Chicago came from starts that grew in Anita’s yard.

At age 89 Anita decided she didn’t want to endure any more of cold Illinois winters and moved to the same Florida senior living community where her sister and brother-in-law lived and she


Mom loved to travel. Here she’s at a stop on a trip to the South Dakota homeland with two of her cousins.

could walk all year long. And walk she did. Nearly everyone on the comely Aston Gardens campus recognized her as the one who was always out walking. Sometimes she would get confused about where she was, but the friendly folks who drove the intra-community resident-transport carts would pick her up, ride her around for a while, then take her back to her apartment.

Besides me, she is survived by her daughter-in-law my wife Sandi Wisenberg of Chicago, her sister and brother-in-law Rhoda and Harold Chukerman from Naples, Fla., and two grandchildren, Rachel Wiggins and Joshua Cohen, and grandson-in-law Damion Wiggins, all of Indianapolis.

Like my dad, Mom donated her body to science, which will be overseen by the Anatomical Board of the State of Florida, the institution that preserves bodies for medical education and research programs.


Global warming is getting personal


               Photos by my cousin, Amy Chukerman

Climate change doesn’t cause hurricanes. But you knew that. On the other hand climate scientists have predicted that there will be more hurricanes and they will be more severe. That certainly seems to be happening, as up here in Chicago, where the weather was beautiful, we watched with trepidation as the one, two, three punch of Harvey Irma Maria hammered Houston, the Caribbean islands and much of Florida and then the Virgin Islands, Cuba and Puerto Rico.

The first two of these storms became very personal, with Sandi’s mother and her sister’s family living in Houston while my mother, IMG_0304aunt, uncle and cousin live in coastal southwest Florida, where Irma did her worst. They all came out relatively unscathed, though my cousin lost everything in her refrigerator and freezer to her street’s five-day power outage.

I was in Florida – Bonita Springs, Naples and Estero – just a week after Irma did her dirty work. What a mess. Trees, many ripped out by their roots, were down everywhere, victims mostly of the hurricane-spun-off tornadoes. They had taken with them homes, power and phone lines and those screened-in porches Floridians call lanais. Many of the live-oak trees that survived had nearly all of their leaves stripped off. Palm fronds littered streets and almost every yard. Wadded up screens from the lanais were stashed on scores of curbs waiting to be carted away. Light posts and street signs were down. Stoplights were out. Gated sub-divisions had propped their gates open. There was an 8 p.m. curfew. Boil-water advisories were in effect.

On a bike ride through residential areas I discovered frogs, much like the rats I often see as I ride down Chicago side streets, smashed and desiccating. By my third day there,

In my cousin’s sub-division

water had receded enough so that most of the main streets were passable. Many homes and businesses in low-lying areas were still partially under a foot or more of water. Grocery stores and other retailers were just beginning to re-open. The curfew was lifted. Gas lines had disappeared. When I left, two weeks after the storm, most, but not all homes had electricity. The inevitable swarms of floodwater mosquitoes had yet to emerge.

Back in Chicago there was a record-breaking heat wave for late September and in Puerto Rico there was Maria. The city’s National Public Radio affiliate, WBEZ, ran a “Curious City” piece on what kind of natural disasters we have to worry about here. Floods, droughts, more frequent and more severe heat waves, polar vortexes – have been and will be coming more often. But…

“We live in one of the best places you can be,” Suzanne Malec-McKenna commissioner of the Chicago Department of Environment from 2007 to 2011 told WBEZ. “Because of its location, Chicago will not likely be hit by hurricanes, tsunamis, and rising sea levels that have plagued coastal areas. And the city is located next to Lake Michigan, one of the largest sources of fresh water, which is essential to human survival and important during times of drought.”

Because our climate-related severe weather is likely to be bearable for the foreseeable future, we are, then, likely to become a haven for climate refugees. And there are sure to be more and more of them.

It has probably already started: Puerto Ricans represented 3.8 percent of Chicago’s population in the 2010 census, with approximately 102,703 living in the city.

Undoubtedly there is going to be an exodus from Puerto Rico after Maria’s devastation, and the likelihood that the near future holds more of the same. Folks will come where there are relatives and friends and people who share a culture. They will go to New York, of course, where they number 723,621 – 8.9 percent of the city – and South Florida, but both are already feeling the pressure of rising sea levels.

The numbers of climate refugees globally is rising. A Bloomberg article warns of a looming housing crisis if just 350,000 of the 3.5 million Puerto Ricans migrate to the mainland. It notes:

In Africa, climate change forced an estimated 1 million people to leave their homes in 2015; in the Pacific, the World Bank has urged Australia and New Zealand to open their doors to residents forced off small island nations such as Tuvalu and Kiribati. Even in Syria, internal migration sparked by a historic drought contributed to the civil war, which has added to the wave of people trying to enter Europe in recent years.

“A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year shows  9 per cent of armed conflicts over 1980-2010 coincided with climate-related disasters such as heat waves or droughts,” according to an article on the British website Independent. “In countries with deep ethnic divides, this figure rises to 23 per cent.”

If Chicago feels a little squeeze from Puerto Rican migration, what will happen when sea level rise chases hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, out of New York City and Miami? The results of too many people living in too few homes are predictable – fire risks, domestic strife, crime and many other problems.

I’m not sure how to finish this other than to exhort you to start doing something about climate change. It affects us all and it affects us now. Click here and scroll down 5 paragraphs for my list of some things you can do now.

It’s getting more inconvenient every day

IMG_3017img_3018.jpgAnother day has passed and I’ve done nothing lately (other than read a review of the new Tesla S economy car) about climate change. I’ll bet you haven’t either. Well, we’d better get started.

This from the Guardian:

Former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres is among signatories of letter warning that the next three years will be crucial to stopping the worst effects of global warming. Avoiding dangerous levels of climate change is still just about possible, but will require unprecedented effort and coordination from governments, businesses, citizens and scientists in the next three years, a group of prominent experts has warned.

Already, I fear, our generation will fail its ultimate test – to leave for those who come after us a better world than the one we inherited from those who came before us.

But if we don’t do what must be done to stop a catastrophe from engulfing, if not us, then surely our children and grandchildren, then we will not simply be failures but perpetrators, for we do, indeed, know what needs to be done.

Some things on my list:

  • Drive less and make your next car electric or at least a hybrid;
  • Bicycle and walk more — In Denmark, 16 percent of all trips—and 25 percent of trips less than 3 miles—are made by bike. In the U.S., the numbers are much smaller. Less than 1 percent in 2003, but rising quickly.
  • Take public transportation whenever you can;
  • Eat less meat – “The meat-centric Western diet … comes with a steep climate price tag: one-fifth of global emissions. If cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases;” from the Drawdown Project, a very interesting source.
  • Replace all your light bulbs with LED bulbs — they use 90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs for the same amount of light, and half as much as compact fluorescents, without toxic mercury. By transferring most of their energy use into creating light—rather than heat, like older technologies—LEDs reduce electricity consumption and air-conditioning loads;
  • Get political – become a climate voter and let your reps know about it. Learn about the Citizens Climate Lobby “fee and dividend” legislation – that puts a revenue-neutral price on carbon.

There are lots more at the Drawdown Project site.


Sandi makes friends at the April 29, 2017 Chicago People’s Climate March.

And one more thing you can do if you are in or near Chicago – Sandi and I are hosting a watch party for the soon-to-be released Al Gore movie – An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power. If you’d like to come, first order tickets to the 4:55 p.m. showing on Aug. 5 at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema. Then plan to come to our house afterwards for food, drink and discussion. Logistical details when you sign up.


Mark your calendar for Sat., April 29, and get ready for the People’s Climate March

I read today, as the media and environmental groups gear up for this year’s Earth Day, about the damage that the ubiquitous plastic drinking straw is doing to the environment and to wildlife. You probably never thought about it. I didn’t. But it’s just another symptom. There are too many things we aren’t thinking about, and as a result, we are leaving a legacy that generations behind us will pay dearly for.

The article quoted experts and volunteers explaining how pitching in to clean up a beach or a public park raises awareness about the consequences of ignoring the environment. Such self-education then spurs further efforts to learn more and get active.

A café owner, motivated by the anti-straws campaign, has banned them from her establishment. She was moved by a video of a plastic straw being extracted from a sea turtle’s nostril. “Now that we’ve been made aware of it,” she told the Chicago Tribune, “we have to do the right thing.”

Which brings me to the People’s Climate March, which is set for April 29 in a city near you. The big one will be in Washington, but there are sister marches all over the place, in this country and elsewhere. They are probably within reach no matter where you are. There are also busses headed to D.C. from as far away as Wichita, Kan. I’m going to the one in Chicago.

Now I’m not naïve enough to think that even millions of people marching on that day will change Trump and the Republicans’ attitude about climate change. What I think is that it could change you. Because while polling shows 48 percent of Americans “worry a great deal” about climate change, it didn’t even come up in the top 10 of issues that were “very important” to how voters picked their candidates in 2016.

Those numbers have to change and change soon or we will be leaving the generations that come behind us with ever-growing parts of the earth becoming uninhabitable. That’s not the legacy I want to leave for my children and grandchildren. So go march. It might change you. It might even change the planet.

Time to act on the climate

When will a critical mass of people decide that “I have to do something about climate change”? I’m not talking about the personal steps, which certainly are a tiny but positive effort, like buying an electric car, installing solar panels on your roof or replacing all your light bulbs with LEDs. I’m talking about politics.

Hot Temperature In Earth Planet
Image from Mother Jones

We have all the information we need to take precautionary steps on this issue. It’s not a scientific issue, it’s not a matter of one more report will do it. One more national climate assessment, that’s what will solve the problem. One more new analogy and people will get it. Information is not the answer. The answer has much more to do with who we are as humans, and how we function politically. (Katherine Hayoe)

My oldest and still close friend, Steven Brubaker, has provided me with a good example of the kind of activism it will take to turn things around. He’s an architect and part of a group called Architects Advocate, which has just put out an open letter to President-elect Donald Trump calling for immediate action on the climate. More than 275 architecture and design industry firms from at least 24 stats are signatories. Their next steps include “…outreach to regional and local elected officials as well as discussion forums with members of the general public to highlight the challenges and opportunities associated with climate change.”

One of the barriers to individuals taking action, as I see it, is the lack of a vision that shows us what our lives will look like if we are able to make the changes necessary to rein in carbon emissions and start to slow, then halt, human-induced global warming. Of course there’s substantial disagreement on that.

There’s the view best articulated by Naomi Klein, who argues that capitalism itself is the main barrier to breaking free from fossil fuels. Thus we need a political revolution ala Bernie Sanders.

There’s the Al Gore view that all it takes is the political will to switch from fossil-fuel power to renewable-energy power, chiefly wind and solar. Once we switch to electric cars and heat and cool our homes with renewable energy, everything will be alright and we can go on with our current lifestyles mostly intact.

There’s the “Carbon Footprint” model, where individuals voluntarily calculate their carbon footprint and pay to fund “offset” projects that reduce atmospheric carbon, either by carbon sequestration or reducing emissions.

There’s the counter-culture model, that we have to quit eating meat and dairy products, drastically reduce our use of air travel, rely on human-powered transportation, source food locally and make other lifestyle changes, some of which may be seen as radical.

Each of these paths forward has strong advocates and serious detractors. There are no easy solutions now. Here’s the problem in easy-to-understand numbers: It’s Time To Redo the Climate Math.

We have pressing problems in this country that will obstruct the shift to a green economy and weaken the resolve to muster the political will if we don’t deal with them – income inequality and race-based oppression chief among them. But we can’t put climate action aside. We need to find ways to act on these problems together.

climatememeI don’t have the answers, but I do know this: we have to put a price on carbon and we can’t wait much longer, and that’s a political problem. We have to be climate voters and we have to make our elected officials know that we expect them to do their part to fight climate change. I recently wrote to both of my U.S. senators urging them to oppose confirmation of Trump’s four climate deniers in key cabinet posts: EPA, Energy, Interior and State.

Here’s another good piece from the New York Times that will help put it all into perspective: Short Answers to Hard Questions About Climate Change.

And another from Canadian climate activist Rolly Montpelier: Unsettling and Ominous – Climate Alarm Bells of 2016.

It probably isn’t too late yet, but we clearly don’t have much time until it is.

Retirement? It’s great! But…


Hiking on Mt. Adams in the Cascades

Donald Trump becoming president, Hillary Clinton NOT becoming president, terrorism, global warming, Alzheimer’s disease, inner-city violence, resurgent racism, attacks on unions: these are among the things that loom largest on my worry list. Retirement has been good to me – I read; I write; I stay physically active and fit – hiking, biking, health club, basketball; I travel; I spend time with friends, my kids and grandkids; I work in my yard; I go to movies and plays; I eat in great restaurants; I even do a little gainful work as a writer now and then.

But the worry list intrudes.

Donald Trump – I’ve often said that one makes major mistakes in politics by underestimating the power of racism in the political arena. Trump is obviously betting that the other side will make such mistakes.  Could he actually win this election? It’s hard to imagine how bad it could get if he is president. Will armed, private militias in the mold of George Zimmerman’s neighborhood watch group roam the streets? Will we be involved in an endless Middle East war? Will we abandon our commitment to stem carbon emissions? Will religion become a test for admittance into an ever-expanding list of civic institutions? Will his administration accelerate the shift of the nation’s income, wealth and power to the 1 percent? The prospect of a Trump presidency is enough to fill up any rational person’s worry time.

Hillary Clinton – She’s got so much baggage and is such a mediocre (at best) campaigner (though I thought her DNC acceptance speech was quite good). Can she possibly win an election and rid us of this vermin? Will the forces of reason be able to generate the necessary turnout?

Terrorism – It boggles the mind to think that people believe they are doing good by killing and injuring other people in the name of some cause. I fear this kind of desperation will only increase as the number of climate refugees (also see The Ominous Story of Syria’s Climate Refugees) climbs and the amount of livable space contracts. There seems to be no one who has a clue about how we go about stopping this. I rather doubt that the mass killing of people is the answer.

Global warming – You knew I wouldn’t leave this out. As opposed to terrorism, we have some very good ideas about how to at least slow down the process of climate change. But we have three major barriers to the massive mobilization it will take to implement the solutions: 1. The feeling by people who understand the dangers that they can’t or don’t need to do anything themselves; 2. The resistance from people who don’t understand how dire the crisis is; and 3. The obstruction by people who stand to lose financially and the politicians who are beholden to them. There are many proposed policy solutions. Here’s one that makes a lot of sense to me, alternately called carbon fee and dividend or a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Most of all, I would like to see climate change become the defining issue of the 2016 election, not just for president, but for every elected office on the ballot. Not much hope for this I know, but it definitely won’t happen unless we say we want it.

Alzheimer’s disease – my mother has some form of dementia, probably Alzheimer’s, that has taken away her ability to make decisions about her life. Those decisions are now in my hands. It is a terrible responsibility. I have plenty of problems running my own life. Now I’m running hers, too. It’s heartbreaking and engenders a kind of moral dilemma that I really can’t figure out how to cope with.

Inner-city violence – Here in Chicago it’s worse than almost anywhere else in the United States – mostly young people killing one another over who gets to sell drugs. Day after day there’s news of another shooting or shootings. Innocent people, good kids getting killed. And not so innocent kids getting killed, dragged down by the hopelessness, joblessness, racism and poverty that’s driving it all. Then police shoot kids, kids shoot police. It’s all so sad and demoralizing for the entire city.

Resurgent racism – There is much to gain by fanning the flames of hatred, and too many people willing to do it. The Tea Party, Donald Trump, racial profiling, outrageous unemployment levels of black youth, unwarranted police violence – all symptoms of an embedded, institutionalized, premeditated system, backed by official terrorism that maintains an underclass to serve the needs of the rich and powerful. My biracial grandchildren and my black grandchildren, even as they grow up in safe neighborhoods and middle-class homes, live in a world that places barriers in their paths I never had to think about.

Attacks on unions – I spent most of my working life fighting back against the all-out assault on unions and the working people they represent. Now my union, AFSCME Council 31, whose newspaper I edited for 20 years, is under direct attack from a governor who has promised to eradicate it, leaving the public service employees it represents to fend for themselves as he lowers their standard of living and robs their families of a decent quality of life. Busting public employee unions, one of the last bastions of resistance to the corporate elite’s political agenda, is one of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s prime goals. Right now he is aiming directly at Chicago Teachers Union and AFSCME – trying to force Chicago Public Schools into bankruptcy and trying to force a strike of state employees.

The antidote to worry is action. I have tried to find a place for myself in the climate battle, not with a lot of success yet. I show up for union and climate rallies. Today I went shopping for a new shower curtain, and socks that can accommodate my mom’s swollen feet, so I can mail it all to her facility in faraway Florida. Somehow, I have to do something on this election. Hillary winning is important if we are to do anything about climate change soon enough to matter, as is taking control of the U.S. Senate away from Mitch McConnell and his minions. Here in Illinois we can contribute to flipping the Senate by helping Tammy Duckworth beat the incumbent, Sen. Mark Kirk. And of course, there’s the blog. Just writing this post has alleviated some of the anxiety.

Happy Earth Day! and a little bit about my palm oil project

When you talk about guilty pleasures, these are ones I just can’t resist: brownies, chocolate chip cookies, peanut butter cups, potato chips. I have a weakness that creates a need for prodigious amounts of exercise to control my weight. Imagine my dismay when I found out, by reading labels, that Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups are made with palm oil.nikid-cups

I had already sworn off their chocolate chip cookies and brownies for the same reason. And then I started looking at the labels of more of their products. They are certainly not alone, but Trader Joe’s, it turns out, is the purveyor of a whole lot of palm oil.

Even if you don’t know about palm oil, I’m sure you suspect this is about climate change. It is. But first the nutritional aspects of the story. Palm oil, alternately called palm kernel oil, glycerin and a whole bunch of other aliases, has a lot of saturated fat – ounce for ounce as much as butter. And we’ve lately been warned that saturated fat, not cholesterol, is the clogged-artery_1thing that raises the levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol in our blood. Besides its use in lots of things you find in grocery stores, from Ritz Crackers to Nutella, from Cheerios to Oreos, palm oil is used to make a whole lot of the deep-fried fast food available almost everywhere. (It’s also in lipstick, shampoo, lotions and other such products.)

But I’m not here to give you medical advice.

The bigger problem with palm oil, in my opinion, is its contribution to global warming. “Globally, it’s estimated that 5% to 20% of global (greenhouse gas) emissions are attributable to deforestation,” writes John Sutter, lead reporter on CNN’s Two° series on climate change.

And that’s the connection to palm oil: “Large areas of tropical forests and other oil-palm-plantation-vlecosystems with high conservation values have been cleared to make room for vast monoculture oil palm plantations – destroying critical habitat for many endangered species, including rhinos, elephants and tigers (and orangutans),” according to WWF, formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund.

One day I was complaining to a checkout clerk at Trader Joe’s about all the palm oil, and she suggested I write to the stores’ corporate officials. So I did:

I have recently begun noticing how many products at Trader Joe’s use palm oil (it has a lot of different names, including: Palm fruit oil, Palm kernel oil, glycerin, vegetable oil, etc.). It is found in ever more snack foods, sweets and pastries and on and on. I know you say that you get it from “sustainable” sources, but there are no such sources (there is a significant amount of debate on this point). Palm oil is bad for individuals — with significant amounts of saturated fat — and bad for the environment. The destruction of rain forests to add more space for palm oil plantations is destroying habitat of endangered species of plants and animals and adding significantly to climate change. You should be on a straight line to eliminating all palm oil products from everything you sell.

Can you tell me if this is a policy you are willing to adopt and how quickly you will move to implement it?

trader_joe_sI got a surprisingly prompt response.

Dear Lincoln,

Thank you for your feedback and inquiry on this important issue. We do want to let you know that much of the palm oil used in our Trader Joe’s products comes from small scale family farms in South America. These farmers are certified by ProForest, which ensures that they meet strict social, environmental and technical criteria.

With regard to environmental criteria, the assessments are carried out at the landscape and operational level at both the farms and processing facilities. These assessments cover environmental impact on the soil, water, air, biodiversity and local communities. The lands the farmers use are not lands that were deforested. The lands used to grow the palm fruit are lands previously used for agricultural purposes (cattle, rice, bananas, etc.).

Still, though, while much of the palm oil our vendors source is as described above, it is impossible for us at this time to ensure that all of our palm oil is sourced this way, and some of it is definitely sourced as a commodity. We appreciate your input, though, and we hope this information helps inform your shopping choices.

Trader Joe’s Customer Relations

So far I haven’t gotten a response to my follow-up reply:

Dear Amy,

Thanks for the prompt reply. A couple of thoughts after reading and re-reading your response.

First you don’t address the health problems caused by substituting palm oil for vegetable oils that have less saturated fat and more polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats.

Second you are using what journalists call “weasel words.” Especially the word “much,” which could, I suppose, mean 20%, but undoubtedly is less than 50%, or you would have said “most.”

Finally, you articulate no intent to eliminate products that use palm oil from plantations on deforested land, which means you are among the companies who are providing strong incentives for deforestation.

Thus you really have not addressed my concerns. Only by using progressively less palm oil in the products you sell can you decrease the incentive for deforestation. Only by using progressively less palm oil can you move your product line in the direction of improving nutritional standards for your customers.

 I think it would be great if everyone who reads this and shops at Trader Joe’s would say something at your store or write to corporate, or send an e-mail to my friend Amy —

More about palm oil:
Palm Oil and Tropical Deforestation
Palm Oil and Global Warming
WWF on Palm Oil