Columns
Consequences of Age Discrimination PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 23 July 2014 14:39

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

It’s usually easier to identify race and sex discrimination in the work place than age discrimination. This is the gist of a new study by Princeton researchers in measuring age discrimination on the job. In sum, a professor and co-author of the study told a  New York Times reporter, “If you want to be an aging panther, and speak your mind to your manager, that’s fine. But expect consequences.”

It isn’t just in the work place. And you don’t have to speak uppity to feel discriminated against.  Most of the time you don’t have to open your mouth. Ask the Lady Friend.

At the checkout counter, she’s asked how many bags she wants for her groceries. If she wants everything in one bag, they’ll say, “Oh, you’re so strong,” as if she were a five-year-old.”

But at 80 she knows she has to slow down. Last week she hiked for eight miles on a narrow, hilly, rocky trail in the Trinity Alps with three women friends – ten to 15 years her junior. The pace had to be slower because of her. It made her feel guilty. She used to be able to keep up, if not lead the pack, and that was not so long ago.

The results of the Princeton survey don’t surprise either of us (I’m the senior by five years). It found that young and middle-aged workers can speak their minds more freely to their employers than 75-year-olds.

“Old people,” says the Lady Friend, “have always been a joke in this country. It’s just that we’re old and there’s nothing to be done about it. Younger people would like us to be cute and pliable and not assertive. At least that’s what I get from the story about the study, and from my own experience. If you’re assertive you are going to pay the consequences if you’re an older person, and those are the ones who generally speak up on the job.”

According to the Times article, when an older man or woman is laid off, it typically took two to six months longer to find a new job than it took younger workers. And the new job is likely to pay less.

A similar story was told by many unemployed older people during the recent recession. “They sent in their resume and got called for an interview, but when they walked in, potential employers saw their white hair and that was it,” the paper said.

As the Lady Friend put it, “The employers didn’t see the experience they saw on the application.”

This column originally appeared on July 25, 2013.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
Car Crimes PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 16 July 2014 15:41

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

My faithful 1992 Honda Accord flunked its smog test last month. After a visit to the repair shop, it was OK to drive. The other day I found the ancient wonder missing from the parking lot after I left my cardio-rehab class in Berkeley. I emptied my head in dread, retraced my steps, looked every which way. The car was missing. Gone. Stolen in daylight.

The nurses were flabbergasted. Nothing like this had ever happened before in the more than twenty years the rehab program has been saving wounded hearts. The stealth was an outrage in a place where one had always felt safe.

A cop came to the house that night. He thought the thieves may have been after the catalytic converter, an antipollution device in the exhaust system, a lucrative prize.

The next night the phone rang at 10. The Lady Friend went to pick it up. “It must be the police. They must have found the car,” she said.  It was. They had recovered the car in San Pablo, minus at least the battery and radio, and towed it to a storage yard in Richmond. “You want to come and get it,” the officer laughed, good naturedly. “Not tonight,” said the Lady Friend.

The following day, with the help of an insurance claims agent in Sacramento, we were able to “visit” the Honda in the Richmond yard where it was temporarily consigned. The woman in charge was of a kindly temperament. She let me step inside the car to retrieve an old New York Review of Books, a couple of  Northern California maps, and a pair of  indispensable eye glasses, in 20-20 condition.

On Tuesday I learned from my local shop where the car was finally towed that the catalytic converter was gone. The thugs had broken through the door to get inside, and, perhaps, with a screwdriver, dug through the ignition lock to get the car started and fled.

You may recall around the time the Honda failed the smog test,

the Lady Friend and I bought a new used Camry (2011), reasonably priced,  to keep us on the road if and when the Honda broke down. I’ll be seeing the insurance adjuster soon.

***

In Monday’s San Francisco Chronicle, Mattier & Ross reported that car thefts were up 10 percent in their city. There were 5,574 last year. Nowadays, they write, thieves are “brazen” enough to be making off with cars just a few doors from where Mayor Ed Lee lives.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .



 
Keeping the Fat Lady Singing PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 10 July 2014 14:54

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

“The Death of Klinghoffer,” which had its U.S. premiere in 1991 in San Francisco, is an opera that depicts the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro by Palestinian terrorists who murdered an elderly and disabled American tourist, Leon Klinghoffer. The work is a controversial treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Joshua Kosman, the music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, took the argument further. In a piece, he asserted, the Met has produced a scandal “about an opera company’s unwillingness to back its own commitments.”

Kosman’s argument is with Peter Gelb, the Metropolitan Opera’s general manager. He blames Gelb for “caving in” to Jewish groups  “and laying down a new marker for institutional cowardice” when he cancelled the planned live HD broadcast in November of John Adams’opera about Klinghoffer.

The Met manager is letting the staged version go forward in New York. Only the broadcast which is beamed globally, “got the ax.” Kosman added, “The illogic of that distinction, silly as it is – apparently New Yorkers can handle material that’s too incendiary for other folks – pales beside the outright cravenness of Gelb’s decision...”

Anthony Tommasini, the New York Times’ critic, likes “Klinghoffer.” He describes it as “ a raw, brooding work that in its brutal honesty provides a kind of tragic  consolation.” And adds, “For me, it is Mr. Adams’s musically richest opera, with a stronger score, overall, than those for ‘Nixon in China,’ and ‘Doctor Atomic.’”

Tommasini said: “Art can offer insight and consolation, yes. It can also challenge, baffle and incense us. This ‘Klinghoffer’ production could have been an invaluable teaching moment for the Met, and its audiences. Mr. Gelb could have assembled Middle East historians, religious leaders and the ‘Klinghoffer’ creative team to have a public dialogue. Culminating in the simulcast.”

The composer, John Adams, is quoted by Tommasini as having said in an interview that it’s “very hard when something’s been stained with an accusation” like anti-Semitism. It’s “almost impossible to wash it out.”

I have not seen the opera though I hope to do so one day, and make up my own mind. However when pros like Kosman and Tommasini write as they did – “attention must be paid” – as the playwright Arthur Miller said of his main character in “Death of a Salesman.”

While all this was playing out, another Met drama is playing offstage: labor troubles may delay the next season. In a front page story on Tuesday, The Times noted the controversy has nothing to do with the Middle East or artistic freedom. It’s about pay and benefits of the workers.

The opera company wants to cut them, warning of  falling ticket sales, smaller grants and contributions from donors which have accounted for more than $300 million a year, or nearly half the house budget. Gelb, the Met manager, said he has to cut labor costs if the Met is to survive, declaring, “No cuts means no Met.”

Historically, in order to survive, art has always had to pay attention to the people who can afford to keep the Fat Lady singing.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
70 Years Later PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 June 2014 13:57

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

I came across a piece entitled “A Boy’s Execution 70 Years Later,” on the editorial page of the New York Times on Monday, June 16. It told the story of George Stinney Jr., a 14-year-old black youth who was arrested and charged with the murder of two white girls. They were found beaten to death in a ditch in rural Clarendon County, S.C.

One month later George was tried and found guilty. Less than three months after his arrest he was executed on June 16, 1944 - “the youngest person to be put to death in the 20th century. He was so small that the guards struggled to strap  him to the electric chair, and the jolt of electricity knocked the mask from his face.”

The piece, written by Jesse Wegman, of the Times editorial board, asserts that there is “strong evidence that George Stinney was in fact innocent, and that his arrest and prosecution were riddled with unconstitutional errors and misconduct.” In January, he noted, “a coalition of lawyers and civil-rights advocates made these arguments before a South Carolina court to either retry or exonerate him, 70 years after his execution.”

In 2005, six decades after Stinney was put to death, the Supreme Court banned the death penalty for minors. “But,” writes Wegman, “elements of the case still echo today. Some states are trying to short-circuit the capital appeals process so that executions can happen more quickly.”

In 1972, it looked as if the Supreme Court was ready to abolish the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment, prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. But in 1976, the Court retreated. Justice John Paul Stevens voted with the majority. But, Stevens, now 94, and retired from the Court since 2012, has had a change of heart.

In a new book,  “Six Amendments,” he argues for the abolition of the death penalty. His reason, as Cass R. Sunstein, of Harvard, cited in an essay in the New York Review of Books, is that “no legal system is likely to be able to eliminate the risk of executing innocent people. “A recent study, according to Castein, estimates that over 4 percent of all death row inmates were wrongly convicted.

Why does the U.S. still have the death penalty? There are excellent reasons for committing it to the dustbin of  history – it’s immoral, does not deter murder, and mostly affects minorities. It’s also more expensive than imprisonment for life, a subject maybe for another day.

“For me,” writes former justice John Paul Stevens, “the question that cannot be avoided is whether the execution of only ‘an insignificant minimum’ of innocent citizens is tolerable in a civilized society. Given the availability of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole as an alternative method of preventing the defendant from committing further crimes and deterring others from doing so, and the rules that prevent imposing an `eye for an eye’ form of retributive punishment, I find the answer to that question pellucidly clear. When it comes to state-mandated killings of innocent civilians, there can be no `insignificant minimum.’” .

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .



 
The 2nd Amendment as Amended PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 June 2014 10:50

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

In a new book, at age 94, John Paul Stevens, who served on the Supreme Court of the U.S. from 1975 to 2010, calls for updating the Constitution by adding six more amendments.

Amendments are hard to come by. After more than two centuries only 27 have been ratified. The Bill of Rights make up the first ten, and the three from the Civil War add up to almost half the rest.

In the aftermath of the massacres of school children in recent years, some lawmakers have called for tight controls on the sale of assault weapons and better background checks on people who buy firearms. At the center of the controversy is the Second Amendment. It simply states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

In 1939, Stevens points out, the Court unanimously held that Congress could prohibit the possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that sort of weapons had no reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a ‘well regulated Militia.’” When Stevens joined the Court in 1975, the Second Amendment, he writes, was “generally understood” as limiting the scope of the Amendment to uses of arms that were related to military activities. In the time that Warren Burger was Chief Justice from 1969 to 1986, “no judge or justice expressed any doubt about the limited coverage of the amendment,” according to Stevens.

But organizations like the National Rifle Association interpreted the Second Amendment more liberally and “mounted a vigorous campaign claiming that federal regulation of the use of firearms severely curtailed Americans’ Second Amendment rights.” Five years after his retirement, in 1991, Burger was quoted as saying on the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour that the Second Amendment “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud. I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen my lifetime.”

In recent years, in 2008, by a five-to-four vote, the Court decided that a civilian has a right to keep a handgun in his home for self-defense. In another five to four decision, in 2010, the Court ruled that the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment limits the power of the city of Chicago to outlaw the possession of handguns by private citizens.” Stevens dissented in both of those cases, at least in part because he believed – and does so today  – that “both decisions misinterpreted the law and were profoundly unwise. Public policies should be decided by the voters’ elected representatives, not by federal judges.”

If I get him correctly, his argument is that the Second Amendment has been abused at the expense of  representative government. where the people are empowered to rule. Stevens says,  “Across the Nation, States and localities vary significantly in the patterns and problems of gun violence, as well as in the traditions and cultures of lawful gun use...The City of Chicago, for example, faces a pressing challenge in combating street gangs. Most rural areas do not.”

If Stevens proposed change in the Second Amendment is ever taken up, five words would be added. It would – in full – declare: “A well regulated  Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms when serving in the Militia, shall not be infringed.” Again the five words: “when serving in the Militia.”

I hope to get to other changes Stevens is advocating in his book, “Six Amendments,” including abolition of the death penalty, in a later column or two.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact     him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
She’s Back! PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 12 June 2014 11:17

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

I have news on our search for a used car. We wound up with a four-door Camry, born in 2011, with 40,000 miles and enough leg room for my 6-2 frame. We put it to the  test – a  600-mile round trip on 101 from the Bay Area  to my old stomping grounds in Eureka.

Every year or two I need a Eureka and New York fix. Both are towering in memory. That is not to say we’re  planning a roundtrip east anytime soon in the Camry. When we’re up for a New York fix the chances are long lines, crowded airports, and       cramped seating will be more welcome than limitless highways, creepy motels, and risky restaurants.

On the morning after we arrived in Eureka, I began looking for a New York Times. a habit I’ve acquired when I find myself on the road.

The young woman at the desk at the Red Lion thought I might try  the nearby Shell station. A grocery as well as a gas station, it carried papers, but no New York Times.  However, as I was told, one store did, a grocery  many blocks away, a half mile or more.

I set out, glad to be on foot again and anxious to catch up with the world, when I heard someone calling me from the street. “You don’t want to walk it, mister. It’s too far. Wait. I’ll take you in my pickup.”

It was the fellow who ran the Shell station. I thanked him for his  thoughtfulness but begged off. I really needed the walk.

*  *  *

This week – actually Monday – the world heard that Barbara Walters, 84, was being called back from retirement. ABC wanted her to interview Peter Rodger, the father of the Santa Barbara shooting suspect, Elliott Rodger. According to media reports, the senior Rodger wanted Walters back on stage to interview him for an upcoming edition of 20/20.

The senior Rodger is to talk with Walters sometime in the coming weeks, ABC reportedly announced. The son, Elliot Rodger, is alleged to have killed six and hurt 13 near the University of California, Santa Barbara, before killing himself.

Last month Barbara said goodbye to her fans on ”The View”  – but as I cautioned  in a column on May 22, she’d talked about retiring before. I was rash enough to suggest her goodbye may have been what they call “a false exit” in show biz –  not for real.

When I was working on the Today Show in the 1970s, she was the hardest worker of all, tireless, indefatigable. People used to say that they would work as hard if they, too, made  millions. They didn’t get it. Maybe they still don’t. Barbara would be Barbara at any age, no matter what the money, for a scoop.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact     him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
Updating the Constitution PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 29 May 2014 13:05

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

If you’re in the mood for some deep thinking this summer, you might check out a review in the current New York Review of Books of a new book by John Paul Stevens, the former Supreme Court Justice. A member of the Court from 1975 to 2010, Stevens, at  94, has produced an argument for ratifying six more amendments to the Constitution.

“Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution” is the title. As the reviewer, Cass R. Sunstein, a Harvard professor, points out, amendments are hard to come by. After more than two centuries only 27 constitutional amendments have been ratified. The Bill of Rights, making up the first ten amendments, and the three  Civil War amendments, add up to almost  half the lot.

The  theme in Stevens’s work is “the importance of Democratic rule.” The goal is to promote self-government, which, as Steven sees it, has been badly compromised  by Supreme Court rulings.

Gun control is one of the most contentious constitutional issues. The language of the Second Amendment would seem to make the law  as plain as day: It simply says: “A well regulated Militia , being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” To quote Cass Sunstein’s review: “For over two hundred years, federal courts generally interpreted the Second Amendment quite narrowly. In their view the opening reference to a ‘well regulated Militia,’ limited the scope of the amendment. The Second Amendment did not create a freestanding individual right to have guns.”

In more recent years, however, the National Rifle Association and others have said the Second Amendment did indeed create an individual right to have guns. But Stevens quotes a retired Chief Justice Warren Burger, a conservative appointed to the High Court by Nixon, as saying in 1991 that the Second Amendment “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

Nonetheless, in 2008, a  majority of the Court upheld the view that Burger denounced as a”fraud.” Stevens thinks the Court  “departed from the original understanding of the Second Amendment. And by so doing greatly increased judicial power to oversee what state and federal governments do to prevent gun violence.” As a cure for “what every American can recognize as an ongoing national tragedy,” Stevens would amend  the Second Amendment to make clear that it only applies  people “when serving in the Militia.” In other words, a soldier in the military.

There are five other amendments  Stevens is calling for. One  long overdue would abolish the death penalty. He concluded in 2008, late in his tenure, that the risk of executing the innocent could not be eliminated.

I hope to get back to Stevens in future columns. But first l I’ve got to get my hands on my own copy of this timely book.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact     him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 
Barbara Walters Says Goodbye – Again PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Monday, 26 May 2014 15:37

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

Barbara Walters is really going to retire. If you can believe what you read and hear. She said goodbye on May 16, her last day as a host  of “The View.”

She is up there in years: eighty-four. On the other hand, she is one tough cookie, and not to be judged by normal standards. She’s talked about retiring before. In show biz they call it “a false exit” if it’s not for real.

In the 1970s when I began working on the Today Show, Barbara was already a star. One day we were assigned to do a story together in Gilmanton, New Hampshire where the late Grace Metalious had once lived and where she wrote her blockbuster novel, “Peyton Place.”

When the novel came out in 1956, townspeople were outraged. In their judgment, the author had defamed honest folks. Our assignment was to find out how the town felt about her and her book twenty years later. With anger, shame, pride?

I went ahead a few days earlier to gather information and find people for Barbara to interview. When I picked her up at the hotel, she began flipping through the pages of my script. “I don’t think you have a story,” she said.

“We’re doing a book.”

“But that’s not our story.”

She wanted the crime rate, the number of divorces, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, abortions, runaways, school dropouts.”

“The crime rate in Gilmanton?” I said.

“Be it ever so humble.”

A moment later, she said, “I believe we’re going to make a bit of news in Gilmanton.”

“What do you mean?

“There’s not a single copy of “Peyton Place” in the town library?”

“How do you know that?”

“I asked.”

For two days I’d gone around town and never thought of checking the library. Barbara lately arrived, picked up the phone and scooped me. She made some news as well when she donated our copy to the library on camera.

As for Barbara today a TV critic noted that she didn’t say adieu on Friday, but spoke the French word for “soon” – as in “I’ll be back.”

Don’t go far.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact     him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
State Senator Corbett Urges Water Conservation PDF  | Print |  E-mail
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Thursday, 15 May 2014 14:48

GUEST COMMENTARY

By State Senator Ellen Corbett • Special to the Times

Although precious rain recently fell on our local communities, I have had scores of conversations over the last few weeks and months with local residents at farmers’ markets, town halls and community events about a topic that remains at the forefront of our minds: California’s drought.

Unfortunately, the recent rainfall has only minimally impacted our depleting water supply.  Further aggravated by a low snow pack, California’s severe water crisis has prompted Governor Jerry Brown to declare a Drought State of Emergency.  California State Senate leadership accepted the Governor’s call to action by developing a proposal allocating over half a billion dollars to implement shovel-ready water projects in communities throughout the state, assist agricultural communities and prevent drinking water shortages.  Fortunately, the legislation passed quickly through the Legislature and the Governor promptly signed it so we can deliver much needed relief to local communities. The Tri-Valley water agency, Zone 7, is receiving only 5% of its normal water allocation from the state, for example.

As a longtime advocate for our environment and local communities, I will continue working closely with my colleagues in Sacramento to address pertinent water issues to help secure California’s water future. It is crucial that we recognize local water districts that have responded quickly and appropriately to address water reliability and conservation.

The Governor has instructed state agencies to begin water conservation efforts and has recommended—though not yet mandated—that state residents reduce their water use by 20%. State water agencies must work collaboratively with stakeholders and residents to manage California’s water supply, while simultaneously assist farmers and communities that are most impacted by the drought. As a result of the ongoing dry conditions, the state has begun a statewide public awareness campaign called “Save our H2O.”

As Californians, we can conserve water by implementing some of the daily tips offered by “Save our Water” at SaveOurH20.org, such as:

Take shorter showers, use a low-flow shower head and turn off water whenever possible.

Place mulch around plants and combine with a drip system to conserve gallons of water each time you water outdoors.

Plant drought-resistant trees and plants that are most appropriate for your climate.

Please also consult my Senate website at sd10.senate.ca.gov/ where I have posted additional important information—both in English and Spanish—regarding water conservation and drought measures.

You can find more information at the following websites from water agencies and water districts in the 10th State Senate District:

Alameda County Water District:  www.acwd.org.

East Bay Municipal Utility District: https://www.ebmud.com.

I encourage each of you to take immediate action and begin conserving water.  I have heard recently from some constituents that they are worried that they may be penalized for voluntarily cutting back on water use, if and when, water rationing becomes mandatory, as it has in some communities in the 10th District and in other parts of the state.  Water districts assure me that is not the case, so please continue to do your part to help our state and local communities.

As the State Senator representing the 10th District, I am committed to combating the drought’s impact on residents, communities and our environment and I look forward to partnering with you to address California’s long term water needs.


 
Traitor or Patriot? PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 15 May 2014 14:00

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

The journalist Glenn Greenwald has a new book out, “No Place to Hide.” Greenwald is the individual to whom Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, leaked documents last year that revealed N.S.A.’s widespread ability to spy  on Americans.

According to Snowden’s revelations, no one is safe since 9/11 – not only in the land of the free but where hundreds of millions of others live around the globe. Think Big Brother and George Orwell’s prophetic novel, “1984.”

Greenwald, until recently a columnist for The Guardian, was the first journalist Snowden sounded out. In his book, based on his exchanges with Snowden, Greenwald calls attention to “the agency’s ‘corporate partnerships’” extending “beyond intelligence  and defense contractors  to include the world’s largest  and most important internet corporations and telecoms.” In Greenwald’s rendering the Orwellian nightmare is a fact of modern life.

In a review of the book Tuesday in the New York Times by Michiko Kakutani, we learn that Snowden – “regarded by some as a heroic whistle-blower, others as a traitor” – is, in Greenwald’s account, a courageous idealist who “needed to act on his belief.” He was in part influenced by books he read growing up.

The ancient Greeks are cited and a work by Joseph Campbell, “The Hero With a Thousand Faces.” Campbell, was a popular speaker in lecture halls and on TV,  the author of works in mythology and religion. He died in 1987.

From his reading, Snowden told Greenwald, he became convinced “it is we who infuse life with meaning through our actions and the stories we create with them.” He also credited video games for giving him insights. Snowden is quoted as saying, “The protagonist is often an ordinary person, who finds himself faced with grave injustices from powerful forces and has the choice to flee in fear or to fight for his beliefs . And history also shows that seemingly ordinary people who are sufficiently resolute about justice can triumph over the most formidable adversaries.”

He is portrayed in the book as a brave man who did only what he believed was the  conscientious thing to do.

A  particular moment in making his decision was when he was in Japan  for N.S.A. in 2010. Snowden said, “I could watch drones in real time as they surveilled people they might kill.” He added, “I watched N.S.A. tracking people’s Internet activities as they typed. I became aware of just how invasive U.S. surveillance capabilities had become. I realized the true breadth of this system. And almost nobody knew it was happening.”

Without casting judgment on Snowden as traitor or patriot, I find it ironic that he found a welcome mat in the Russia of Vladmir Putin who served for 16 years as an officer in the KGB in the days when the country was the Soviet Union.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact  him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .



 
Too Big to Jail PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 08 May 2014 13:31

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

There’s a reason only one top banker went to jail for the financial crisis,” an article by Jesse Eisenger, an investigative  reporter, says in the lead piece in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.

The only one top banker who went to jail for the financial crisis – on January 27 – is Kareem Serageldin. Although he once earned nearly $7 million a year at Credit Suisse, Serageldin, 41, had always lived modestly. He worked ’round the clock, save for five or six hours of sleep, “creating and trading complex financial instruments.” So why is he the guy to take the fall, described by a friend as an “investment-banking monk.”

According to the piece, prosecutors said he had OK’d “the concealment of hundreds of millions in losses in Credit Suisse’s mortgage-backed securities portfolio.”

Eisinger writes that Serageldin lied about the value of his bank’s securities – a crime to be sure – “but other bankers behaved far worse...His (former) employer – for one - had revised its past financial statements to account for $2.7 billion that should have been reported.”

To put this in context: “Lehman Brothers, AIG, Citigroup, Countrywide and many others had also admitted that they were in much worse shape than they initially allowed. Merrill Lynch, in particular, announced a loss of nearly $8 billion three weeks after claiming it was $4.5 billion.”

The judge characterized Serageldin’s behavior “a small piece of an overall evil climate within the bank and with many other banks.” He sentenced Serageldin, an Egyptian-born trader who grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, to 30 months in jail. He “would earn the distinction of being the only Wall Street executive sent to jail for his part in the financial crisis,” said Eisinger.

In the aftermath of the crash in 1929 that led to the Great Depression, history reminds us that back then public hearings “seized upon public outrage.” The head of the New York Stock Exchange went to prison. In the savings-and-loan scandals of the 1980s, “1,100 people were prosecuted, including top executives at many of the failed banks. In the ’90s and early aughts, when the bursting of the Nasdaq bubble revealed widespread corporate accounting scandals, top executives from WorldCom, Enron, Qwest, and Tyco, among others, went to prison.”

Investigators  were also going after Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm that had ”blessed” Enron’s “phony balance sheets and shredded documents shortly after it had detonated. Andersen was convicted by a jury. Within months the firm closed down, costing tens of thousands of people their jobs.”

The verdict was expected to “embolden the Justice Department but it shocked much of the corporate world and even many prosecutors, who thought the department had abused its powers at the cost of thousands of innocent workers.” The verdict “resulted not in more boldness but in more caution on the part of federal prosecutors,” said Eisinger.

Back in the Clinton years, Eric Holder, then deputy attorney general, advocated steps to toughen corporate prosecutions. In March, as U.S. attorney general, in testimony in front of the Senate,  Holder “seemed to lament the position government enforcers had found themselves in”:

“I am concerned,” Holder said, “that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for you to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if we do prosecute – if we do bring a criminal charge – it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy.”

“Holder quickly walked back the remarks,” Eisinger said.

(The article on the financial crisis was a collaboration between the New York Times and ProPublica, an independent nonprofit investigative organization.)

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
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Thursday, 01 May 2014 11:50

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

Twenty-three years ago, my late wife and I bought a  2-door Honda Accord in the Bay Area, driving it off the showroom floor. It was the first car we’d bought since leaving Eureka for New York in1963. In our New York years we got around on subways, busses, taxis and the occasional rental.

These days the Lady Friend and I are shopping for a used car to replace the indestructible Accord which, however, is costing good money to keep on the road. It’s also making us fearful to take out of town.

We decided to talk to dealers and owners. We had a lot to learn. What to look for: a spacious car or a small car with low mileage? We didn’t exactly know what we wanted  but we had to make up our mind.  And how much could we spend, and where to look at cars that fit our situation?

The Lady Friend went on the Internet to look up used cars for sale and get a feel for prices. She went to the library and researched different models in Consumers Guide for their history and reliability. She called on dealers and test drove different cars to decide what kind she was most comfortable with.

After a week of burning rubber she finally found what she thought we could live with. The price was right, the mileage, too, as was the mileage per gallon.

Before she was home she announced the news on her cellphone. She’d found the car with the right stuff: a smart-looking 4-door Corolla with ideal mileage and a good price.

We wasted no time getting back to the dealer. The Carolla dazzled in the sun, as if it were still on a showroom floor. It looked even more beautiful as I approached it on the car lot.

“Get in,” the Lady Friend prompted. I folded myself into the passenger seat, all 6-2 of me. My knees wound up under my chin.

I squirmed and pushed but could not get an extra inch. The Lady Friend, it needs to be said, stands or sits at 5-2.

So we’re back on the merry-go-round. I’ll keep you posted.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


 
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