A Day Fit for a President PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 01 October 2015 13:52


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

Some of our friends fancy sailing on cruise ships. Over time we contracted a case of cruise ship envy. Luckily, a ship was at hand, in Jack London Square. (Full disclosure, a noble friend, perhaps taking pity, made us a present of a couple of tickets ($80 apiece,  box lunch included) aboard the U.S.S. Potomac, Franklin Roosevelt’s famous yacht.

For Roosevelt, during the Depression and World War II, cruising down the Potomac into the sea  was the perfect escape from the heat of Washington and the telephone. He loved the water – an exuberant and skilled sailor since childhood. His notion of paradise was “sitting on the deck in an old hat shading his head from the sun, a fishing rod in his hands,” as Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote in “No Ordinary Time.”

Our destination aboard the president’s yacht last week was Angel Island, the largest island in San Francisco Bay. It was a day fit for a chief of state. The water was smooth, the sun strong, fanned by a welcome sea breeze.

Angel Island figures prominently in the history of California. For thirty years – from 1910 to 1940 – Angel was the major entry point for  perhaps  100,000 Asians and others from Pacific lands. Some refer to it as the West Coast’s Ellis Island. But that’s a wild stretch.

Ellis Island in New York Bay, was the principal immigration center in the U.S. from 1892 to 1943. Its history is gilded as a haven for 17 million, mostly European immigrants. Angel Island’s story is not so pretty.

Many of the immigrants – mostly Chinese – were not welcome. Exclusion laws kept them and other Asians penned up in overcrowded and filthy barracks until their cases were decided. Most gained entry into the U.S. but others were turned away and sent back to the poverty and disorder from which they’d  fled.

Some of the immigrants held captive put their rage in words carved on the barrack walls. One translated “poem” says, in part:

“Detained in this wooden house for

several tens of days

because of the exclusion laws.

It’s a pity heroes have no place

To exercise their prowess.”

Angel Island was also where detained civilians were held during World War I and World War II. It was also where prisoners of war were confined in World War II. During the Cold War, the island was the site of a Nike missile base. But today its 740 acres are a beautiful state park. I must add the views on the trip over and on the return aboard the Potomac – seascapes of San Francisco and the Marin hills are astonishing. The same goes for the sail under the new Bay Bridge under construction.

Who needs a cruise to the Riviera when you have it as good in your own backyard?

This column originally appeare on October 6, 2011.

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 .

John Barrymore’s Trunk PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 30 September 2015 16:46


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

I saw an item in the paper the other day. It referred to a new book by a college professor, “Waste and Want: a Social History of Trash.”

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure is one way to sum up the theme.

Well, anyone whose ever had a yard sale or patronized flea markets knows that; knows that however humble and useless and trash-worthy something might be, there is always someone out there who will want it and pay money to have it.

The late Wallace Stegner wrote a wonderful piece some while ago that he called, “The Town Dump.” It is all about a young man discovering civilization as he rummages through the things that people throw away.

In my early years, I served for a time as a cabin and messboy on Swedish freighters. One of my duties was looking after the quarters of the chief engineer and first mate. I got to know them well simply from the contents of their wastebaskets.

Some years ago, my late wife and I happened to drop in at a dilapidated antique shop in Bodega. An elderly man was sitting in a rocker just inside the door.

With a sharp eye on his visitors, he asked us if we might be New Yorkers. When we confirmed his judgment he called our attention to a small steamer trunk coated with rust, a century old if a day.

That steamer, he went on, do you have any idea who owned it?

He paused significantly before revealing his secret.

John Barrymore, he said slowly so as to give the great actor’s name a moment to sink in.

The trunk, he went on, went everywhere with Barrymore. How that fellow traveled! An artist of his stature, he was in demand all over the world.

The Barrymore chest had come to him by way of an estate sale.

Since we obviously were people who could appreciate the value of such an antique, he’d give us a special price. The proprietor would even swear on paper that it was the real McCoy.

Of course the old boy was giving us a story, of course the trunk was useless.

But we had a witty friend who loved tall stories. The alleged antique would be the perfect gift.

I forgot what we paid for it — but it had to be a hundredfold more than it was worth — unless one factors in the pleasure it gave a friend, and the pleasure it gave us, to say nothing of the proprietor.

Our gift of trash occupies a prominent place in the living room of the friend’s Manhattan apartment. When visitors come, he never fails to point out how his friends found the treasure in a shop full of junk in California.

This column originally appeared on June 22, 2000.

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 .

Ailing Jimmy Carter PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 27 August 2015 14:34


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

The 39th president of the United States had been speaking about the cancer that was removed from his liver; and, more recently, the discovery of cancer in his brain. He is 90, and will be 91 in October.

Jimmy Carter’s ascension to the  presidency in 1974 had everything to do with his diabolical predecessor, Richard Nixon, the only president to resign the office under a scandalous cloud we know as Watergate. It is widely believed, fairly or not, that Gerald Ford promised to pardon Nixon in exchange for the presidency. It’s never been proven, but it’s what many people suspect to this date.

In more recent days, Jimmy Carter has spoken about the born-again Christian beliefs that some thought would be harmful when he ran for president in 1976. But he said they were helping him now, as he may face his last great contest. “I do have a deep religious faith, which I’m very grateful for.” He told reporters that he is “at ease with whatever comes.”

I’m no expert, but my recollection that when Jimmy Carter was in the White House a peaceful settlement between Israel and its Arab neighbors seemed at hand. Surely, no American president strove harder to find a way out of the tragic dilemma than Carter.

The other day, when Carter spoke at the Carter Center in Atlanta about prospects for peace, he was not optimistic. “They are more dismal than anytime I remember in the last 50 years,” he said.

He is a man of regrets – one especially that lingers –  that if he had sent more helicopters in our attempt to rescue the 52 American held hostages in Iran the mission would have succeeded, “and I would have been re-elected.”

Wishful thinking? Military commanders have said that a larger fleet of helicopters would likely have alerted Iranians to the mission.

*    *    *

There’s no doubt that the Iranian crisis contributed to the defeat of Jimmy Carter’s bid for re-election in 1980. The Republican, Ronald Reagan, won in a landslide. Unlike Jimmy Carter, Reagan was a gifted talker, cheerful, and always optimistic. According to Hedrick Smith, of the New York Times, “His aw-shucks manner and charming good looks disarm those who, from a distance, have thought of him as a far right fanatic.

*    *    *

Jimmy Carter has been out of office for many years, but he has continued to play an important role in our national dialogue. When his time comes, a lot of us will miss him.

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 .

Waiting for Gore PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 19 August 2015 21:26


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

In her column in last Sunday’s New York Times, Maureen Dowd wrote again about Donald Trump.

“Donald Trump, Diplomat” was the headline. The piece made mention of his disdain for George Will, the know-it-all pundit. For once, there is a meeting of the minds between Donald Trump and myself.

In the distant past, I flew to Chicago with Bill Geist to do an interview for CBS’ “Sunday Morning” with George Will. In the Times interview with Dowd, Trump recalls a time 10 years ago when Will came to a place where Trump was staying but Trump refused to hear the speech because, as he told Dowd, Will’s “a boring person.”

Trump told Dowd that “he stayed on the patio and had dinner and that offended him.” (Will replied, according to Dowd, that he has “other and better reasons for thinking it might not be altogether wise to entrust him (Trump) with the nation’s nuclear arsenal.”

*    *    *

Ross Douthat, who is also a Times columnist, is throwing cold water on the notion that Hillary may be in real trouble. Yes, her ratings have been falling. The other shoe could drop in the investigation into her private email server. Bernie Sanders is leading in a New Hampshire poll. There are whispers of Joe Biden, and Al Gore – yes, Gore.

In the age of Trump, we must be on guard for surprises, Hillary is old news; almost any way you slice it; and yet Douthat, this fearless of columnists, states flatly, “Hillary’s going to win the nomination, and it isn’t going to be particularly close.”

“First and foremost,” he writes, “she’s going to win the nomination because she only needs Democratic votes to win it, and Democrats still like Hillary – a lot.” To take the nomination away from Hillary, an opponent “would need a candidate capable of performing the same feat as Obama in 2008, and winning not only white liberals but a large share of minority support (an overwhelming share of the black vote, in his case) as well.”

Any “Hillary Loses” narrative would have to include “some scandal beyond anything the Clintons have endured before,” Douthat says. And here he is “a bit cynical: While the email scandal is a serious business I simply do not believe that the Obama Justice Department is going to indict the former secretary of state and Democratic front-runner for mishandling classified information, even if the offenses involved would have sunk a lesser figure’s career or landed her in jail.”

As for those whispers for Al Gore in a time when concern about climate is all the rage, could he be the one we’re waiting for?

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 .

Mr. Biden’s Perplexing Situation PDF  | Print |  E-mail
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Thursday, 06 August 2015 14:49


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

While attention is focused on Republicans having it out this week in Cleveland, Hillary Clinton has her own challenges to consider for 2016.

She’s long been saying that she thought she’d have competition for the Democratic nomination but probably had not seriously considered a challenger so close to home as Vice President  Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

Biden himself has said nothing about joining the race, but as recently as June, The Wall Street Journal reported that Beau Biden had encouraged his father to run before Beau died at 46 after a long battle with brain cancer.

Maureen  Dowd, the New York Times columnist, reported last weekend that the vice president was holding meetings in his residence, “talking to friends, family and donors about jumping in” to take on Mrs. Clinton  in Iowa and New Hampshire.

If this dream is true, Joe Biden will have to find money, and plenty of it, before he can make it a horse race. Obama’s No. 2  comes across as a decent guy, perhaps too decent for a heavyweight, but wordy and  irrepressible. Hillary may be a lot of things but she’s also a brawler and Republicans will know they have been in battle when they’ve taken her on.

What’s more, she will — if she wins — be making history as central to the health and welfare of this weary republic as did Obama when he won the White House in 2008 — the first African American president in our history and  now — perhaps — the first woman president.

*      *      *

Biden, 72, has been in the public eye for many years. As a senator from Delaware 25 years ago,  he flickers in memory like an old film. But I remember how harshly he — and other senators — treated Anita Hill, a young black attorney, who had opposed  the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, alleging questionable behavior. Alas, first impressions, tend to be long lasting!

*      *      *

Mrs. Clinton is probably strong enough to resist or withstand attack, though Biden advisers and supporters reportedly have implied  that she is vulnerable for a challenge. A spokeswoman for the Clinton campaign shrugged. Hillary, she said, “ has the most money and she is beating every Republican in most of the polls. So you can’t really ask for much more than that.”

Speaking of money — the mother’s milk of politics and much else — Mrs. Clinton’s campaign  has already raised more than $45 million in the three months since she made her candidacy official. Much of the enthusiasm — if you can believe what campaigns say — stems from the excitement about the possibility of electing the first woman to make it to the Oval Office on her own.

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 .

On the Road to Nov. 8, 2016 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Friday, 31 July 2015 10:55


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

In E. J. Dionne Jr.’s column in the San Francisco Chronicle we learn where many Americans don’t want to be labeled – or painted – in “polarizing colors like  bright red or bright blues.” Among us are also “pinks and  turquoises and even purples.” Americans are polarized but ambivalent.

There is bad news by way of Dionne for Republicans from the Pew Research Center. Its survey found that only 32 percent of Americans had a favorable view of the Republican Party – down nine points since January – while 60 percent had an unfavorable view.  The numbers for Democrats did not call for a celebration – 48 percent favorable and 47 percent unfavorable.

*   *   *

We now know that the Republican debate is scheduled  for August 6, a Thursday, in Cleveland. The last time around the Republicans seesawed into farce. This time only 12 debates would be held in contrast to the 27 debates and forums from 2011 to 2012. After the Cleveland debate, one debate will follow every month until February when three are scheduled, and March, when two are scheduled. Don’t forget primaries and caucuses, not to mention conventions, on the way to the Election, Tuesday, November 8, 2016.

*   *   *

My hunch is that many countries have shorter elections than we do. I don’t know if they fare better in picking the best people. But I do know there’s something wrong about a society that calls itself democratic when it costs millions in the multiples, and even billions to win a national election. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court opened the flood gates in Citizens United on January 21, 2012 when it overturned the provision of McCain-Feingold, barring corporations and unions from paying for political ads made independently of candidate campaigns.

In a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor, Justice Stevens wrote:

“At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. This is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this country would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”

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 Predictable Donald Trump PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Tuesday, 28 July 2015 14:08


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

If the New York Times is to be believed – and it very often is – Donald Trump’s campaign for president is built entirely around instincts and grievances of an unpredictable candidate. Trump does not depend on people who ponder events. He shoots his mouth off.

Last Sunday he refused to take anything back that he said about Senator John McCain; in particular, his assertion that McCain  is “not a war hero” because he was captured. Instead of apologizing, Trump said his speech was warmly received, touching off “the biggest standing ovation” of the day in Iowa.

He backed off somewhat on Monday in an interview with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News. He said he respected McCain, adding, “Certainly if there was misunderstanding, I would totally take that back.”

Veteran groups were perplexed. Paul Rieckhoff, of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told the Times, “Donald Trump is not a leader in veterans philanthropy, unless he’d donated a lot of money that nobody knows about.”

It is too early to say whether Trump hurt his standing in public opinion surveys with his remarks about McCain. But recent opinion polls put Trump among the top-rated Republican candidates.

Trump is campaigning part-time and spending little on planning or organization. But he has an undeniable talent for attracting attention. He may not want to be president anymore than most of us. But he surely wants that attention.

“I have a pulse to the ground,” he told the Times. “I think I know what’s wrong with the country, and I think I’ve been able to portray that in a way that people agree with.”

It’s too early to predict anything in the presidential election of 2016. But I’m not putting any money on Donald Trump.

Personal note: The Lady Friend has become an honest woman. In May she became my wife.

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 .

Political Dynasties PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 July 2015 14:41


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

The press is excited over the prospects of a clash between two dynasties led by Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. It may not happen. But the subject is marketable and news is a business. So let’s dig a little.

John Adams, who followed George Washington, was our second president and founder of the dynasty. (In my Webster’s, dynasty is defined as “a sequence of rulers from the same family, stock, or group.”) John’s son, John Quincy Adams, was president number 6. He won the presidency in 1824. Like his father, he served a single term.

As  America went on its own in 1776, Abigail Adams, the wife and mother of the gentlemen just cited, spoke up. She urged her husband to include women in the new order: “Remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors! Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.” Her husband took no heed.

The election of our 9th president, William Henry Harrison, in 1840, and his grandson, Benjamin Harrison, our 23rd, in 1889, gave us our second dynasty. The rub here is that Benjamin Harrison narrowly lost the popular vote but won the electoral votes to beat Grover Cleveland. At 68 Grandfather Bejamin was the oldest man before Ronald Reagan to become president. He is remembered not for what he did but for  what he didn’t. He didn’t know enough to come in from the cold. He insisted on delivering an inaugural address lasting one hour and 40 minutes outdoors on a stormy March day without wearing a hat, gloves or overcoat. He died a month to the day after he was sworn in on April 4, 1841.

The Bush dynasty is the only one still in business but Hillary surely will have her say before it’s over. And no doubt, Bill, too.

In our own time the media have celebrated the Roosevelts as the model of a political dynasty. In the Ken Burns’ film about Teddy and Franklin, the two distant (fifth) cousins, Theodore  Roosevelt, Republican, and Franklin Roosevelt, Democrat, were portrayed as strong leaders and reformers. Eleanor Roosevelt, Franklin’s wife and Teddy’s favorite niece, was a voice for the  dispossessed. I was on the planet in the FDR years, a young kid, it’s true, but the film recalled the headlines and radio broadcasts of a teetering world. Franklin, from an early age, idolized Teddy, his senior by some 24 years. His life-long ambition was to succeed him in the White House.

Years before he became president Franklin said in a commencement address at Milton Academy in Massachusetts, “The menace to the nation would not come from four or eight years of liberal or even radical control of government, but from too many years of conservative government which would fail to keep up with the new and startling developments of the future.” It was the sort of speech TR could have made as well. Now that’s a real family dynasty for you!

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 .

Call for Safe Streets PDF  | Print |  E-mail
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Thursday, 02 July 2015 11:13

070215n9By Leah Hall • Special to the Times

I volunteer with a neighborhood grassroots group called the Durant Avenue Task Force to help raise awareness of the public safety risks occurring on a daily basis on that street. While the problems are exacerbated by conflicting or poorly aligned governmental jurisdictions, it is by no means is limited to that street. I also ran for City Council last year with a platform of making our neighborhoods more livable throughout our city.

Last November, my husband and I were nearly hit by a driver while we crossed Broadmoor Boulevard only 1/2 block from our home. We’ve seen car crashes in our neighborhood that simply wouldn’t happen if the speed limits were reduced and more rigorously enforced. Street design and community awareness have been improved in some limited cases, but there is a great deal of work left to be done.

When I read about Madeleine Moore’s life, and the crash  that occurred on a neighborhood street, I became angered. I am profoundly saddened by the senseless tragedy and the apparent lack of outrage. We are not doing enough as a community to make our streets safe for all users and our neighborhoods more livable.

According to a report published by the National Safety Council (NSC), American families are more at risk on local roads than highways. “Motorists, their families and the people around them often are at most risk in their own neighborhoods,” writes John Ulczycki, director of the National Safety Council’s Transportation Group.

I see this risk ignored in my neighborhood whether I am in my car or walking on the sidewalk. Drivers speed and frequently illegally pass other drivers who are observing the posted speed limit.

Drivers speed around corners designed for cars while defenseless and exposed pedestrians wait for an opportunity to cross the street. Crosswalks are placed too few and too far between - and then ignored by selfish drivers.

Officials in a multitude of agencies and jurisdictions seem slow to grasp the problem of car-oriented transportation bias in our neighborhoods and reluctant to put forward and fund real solutions that would make streets safe for everyone.

Speeding drivers seem oblivious or callous to the risk they are posing. Officials and governmental departments are seemingly prioritized to other, “more pressing” public safety concerns.

According to the NSC report,  “The bottom line of research like this is that the most dangerous threat to American families is not terrorism....but the belief ‘It can’t happen to me.’”

If you are speeding through someone else’s neighborhood, stop and think about what your are doing. Start a neighborhood traffic safety group or attend existing neighborhood association meetings to raise awareness and make this high risk public safety concern the priority it deserves to be.

Leah Hall is the co-chair of the Durant Avenue Task Force.

A Party in Revolt PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 17 June 2015 23:53


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

For the moment, the Democratic party is in revolt against President Obama. He appealed for support from House Democrats last week to expand his trade negotiating power in the Far East. But the vote dealt a blow to his hope for an agreement – “and quite likely his chance to secure a legacy-defining accord spanning the Pacific Ocean,” the New York Times said. The vote came hours after Mr. Obama made a personal appeal for support from House Democrats to expand his trade negotiating power.

One prominent Democrat to whom he turned was Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House  Minority leader. She has steered the president’s legislation  since he took office. This time she balked. “We want a better deal for America’s workers,” she said

In explaining the President’s “stinging” defeat, The Times said, “Once eager to support  Mr. Obama, Democrats now are less willing to buck their own labor-dominated base or their own convictions to advance their president’s program.”

“It’s a big hit,” Patrick Griffin, who was President Bill Clinton’s point man in directing political maneuvers in trade, was quoted as saying. “I don’t know if it’s defining but it’s a big hit.”

“It’s a nasty little issue that cuts in the party badly,” he said. But he added, “it also speaks to years of frustration among Democrats who feel that when it comes to Mr. Obama, ‘you call me only when you  want something.’”

The article pointed out that the rebuke may have had had more to do with policy and politics. After decades of seeing jobs going overseas and presidents acclaiming “trade agreements from South Korea to Mexico, even in the face of opposition from their base, Democrats have broadly come to the conclusion that such agreements exacerbate income equality,” and  threaten the future of organized labor.

“Enough is enough,” Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat said during the debate.

In last Sunday’s  New York Times Magazine there is a defining  piece, “Labor’s Last Stand,” by Dan Kaufman. He helps us to see how much we’ve lost and why since a third of the working force belonged to unions. Nowadays the figure is around 15 percent.

Some of the great labor victories, Kaufman reminds us. were produced during the Depression – among them the eight-hour workday, and the 1935 Wagner Act, “which guaranteed the right to strike and remains labor greatest means of leverage.” A turning point for labor  came in 1981, when the Air Traffic Controllers went on strike, “violating an oath signed by federal  employees.” Reagan was unsympathetic. After 48 hours, he invoked a provision of Taft-Hartley – an act of Congress in 1947 that bans closed shops and other union practices.

“He also fired more than 11,000 air traffic controllers but also had them permanently replaced. The union’s strike fund was   frozen, many of its local leaders imprisoned... Since Reagan broke that union, the number of large-scale  strikes begun in a given year in the U.S. has fallen to 11 (last year)from 145 (in1981). In 2014, only 11 percent of all American wo rkers and 7 percent of private -sector workers belonged to a union,”  Kaufman wrote.

In sum, President  Obama pushed too far. For once the rank and file of his party in Congress stood up for the people who have to work two or more jobs to support their families. If they’re lucky.

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 .

Bernie Sanders on the Stump PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 04 June 2015 17:47


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, though quick-witted, and still going strong at 73, is probably not going to be the next president. His humor strikes a chord of recognition with the old but it’s not enough.

After speaking for an hour in the hot sun in New Hampshire a man who was 89 raised a question. According to the New York Times, he said, “Would you raise the top marginal tax rate to over 90 percent as it was in the 1950s, when the middle class and the economy were doing so well?”

“You mean under the communist Dwight D. Eisenhower?” Mr. Sanders wittingly remarked about the popular American general, a Republican, who served two terms as president in the 1950s, and did not oppose high taxes

The Ike joke would probably fall flat with most crowds today but Sanders, an independent, knew to whom he was speaking, about 50 seniors in a crowd of 200 who’d come out to hear the candidate in a backyard in Epping, N.H.

Some of his proposals may be fanciful in today’s world. He wants to do away with tuition at public universities and charge little or no tuition. The revenue would come from taxes on Wall Street. In the first half of the 20th century, the University of California, City College of New York and other top-rated schools charged little or no tuition.

The references Sanders cites plays well with some of the elderly, recalling  an earlier time when government was  generous and shouldered more responsibility for people in hard times, and providing a “strong safety net.”

The Times quoted 80-year-old Marlene Gilman, who whispered excitedly in Concord, N.H., as Sanders pledged

to create more jobs through a trillion dollar public works program. For her, Sanders’ plan excitedly echoed Roosevelt’s New Deal.

The problem for candidates like Bernie Sanders is that the United States is, at heart, a conservative country. In bad times, like the Great Depression of the 1930s, a revolution was possible. People demanded action. For a few  years, Roosevelt had a free hand to act, to improvise, to experiment. That is not the world we live in today.

Sanders has a compelling issue if voters care to listen. He told the paper, “The Democratic Party talks about needing the African-American vote, the Hispanic vote, the women’s vote, and all of that is right, but somehow, we forget about senior citizens. Well, poverty among seniors is growing in this country, too. I’m going to fight for expanded Social Security benefits for them and fight for their vote.”

He’s a long shot. But who knows? The televised debates may do him a lot of good.

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 .

Inspired by Don Quixote PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 28 May 2015 16:43


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

The Lady Friend and I were recently in New York to attend a memorial for an old friend and neighbor of mine.

Cherie Tredanari was 96. Her husband, Len, died some years earlier. In the past 30 or so years, it seems we have attended more memorials and fewer funerals; as if funerals were coming out of fashion in a more secular and less religious time.

This may be a reflection of the more cynical world we live in; we hear church attendance has dropped considerably. Most people claim to believe in God but fewer may belong to a church or attend regular services.

Funerals, as I remember them growing up, were largely religious ceremonies. The main speakers were the rabbis, priests or ministers. Today, it seems anyone in the audience can have his or her say. More and more, we hear of people holding their own memorials for their loved ones – called by many, “celebrations of a life.”

Such was the memorial for Cherie. About a hundred people turned out. Many took the microphone to celebrate her as mother, grandmother, friend, cook, hostess, artist, gardener, etc. Some of the stories were humorous, others funny; some thoughtful, some insightful, a few boring; some went on too long, a few sparkled.

On the other hand, a memorial was an opportunity for all to celebrate the life of an unforgettable lady in her own time and ours.

The mother of a daughter and a son, and grandchildren who survive her, Cherie set out as a young girl to become an artist. By the time of her death, she was a sculpture of note. Her principal work is a series of metal sculptures inspired by the adventures of Don Quixote.

*   *   *

For a long time, my favorite reading in the newspapers has been the obituaries. In the best there is a beginning, a middle and an end.

Last week in the New York Times, one in particular caught my attention. In 1987, a “common-sense judge,” Ira B. Harkavy, 84, of Brooklyn, ordered a 77-year-old landlord to 15 days of house arrest in one of his own deteriorating apartment buildings.

The judge, whose death was reported last week, was known for “common-sense solutions” to juridical questions. In the 1987 case of the landlord of the six-story building, the defendant “failed to address more than 400 housing violations.”

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 .

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