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Still Going Strong at 90 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
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Thursday, 23 October 2014 14:56

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

This may be something for the Guiness Book of Records. A colleague of long-ago is still chasing the news at 90. I’m sure there are a dwindling few who are still at it at 90 or older but probably not at Gabe’s pace.

I  knew the indefatigable Gabe Pressman, New York’s premier street reporter. He, along with Mike Wallace, and some others when the medium was young, more or less invented the “gotcha” or surprise interview. With cameras rolling they barged in on  key figures, asking questions; fearlessly sometimes but often boorishly and foolishly.

A dark, short, frenetic man with darting, coal-black eyes he was one of the first to venture forth with a camera crew and a microphone to interview the man/woman on the street concerning the latest natural disaster, or crime wave, or political heist. Street reporters like Gabe had to press fast to keep up with the competition from  rival stations. All day, if not every hour,  bulletins or flashes  gave people something new to worry about. Journalists like Gabe had need to keep up with every twist and turn of the story.

For a few years I produced his late night news show at WNBC in New York. It’s hard to know when Gabe slept. If the story were big enough he was up at all hours. He must have slept with his clothes on, another way of saying this newsman had only to spring out of bed, jump in his car (the station hired a car and driver for him) and raced off into the night to get the story.

During those years my phone at home would start ringing at 7 ayem. My wife and I knew only one early caller. It was always Gabe, wanting to be reassured. Did he get the story? Was he too tough or not tough enough? Honestly, how did he come across? I always said that his was a bravo performance. And so would began another day in local news.

Thanks to an e-mail from a New York friend, I caught a reference to Gabe in a story about New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio. Gabe’s name was in the first sentence: “For a moment, the newsman Gabe Pressman caught Mayor Bill de Blasio’s eye on Fifth Avenue during the Columbus Day parade this week. Mr. Pressman, 90, has about 60 years of experience flagging down politicians during parades and public events. ‘I thought I saw an invitation in his eyes to ask a question,’ said Mr. Pressman, who reports for WNBC-TV. ‘But then there was a scrum, a lot of pushing and shoving.’”

The mayor and his wife, Chirlane McCray, “were swept along by security and for the next 25 blocks, reporters – not including Mr. Pressman – pursued, but were kept away.” Gabe knew better than to waste his time in vain.

The first time I met Gabe I was a journalism student at Columbia. It was

November 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was shot. “How do you feel?” he said, importuning homeward bound commuters. “You’ve heard the news. The president’s been assassinated. How do you feel?’

How do you feel?

I was appalled, thinking that’s not digging for a story, that’s child’s stuff.

Looking back fifty years later I can see where Gabe’s approach made sense. He instinctively knew that TV, at its core, was theatre, an ideal conduit for conveying emotions, as well as information.

It was good to know that Gabe was still going strong.

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 .


 
‘Pay Any Price’ PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 October 2014 15:16

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

In his new book, “Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War,” James Risen, a Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative reporter for the New York Times, makes a case that the untold story behind the war on terror during the past 13 years has been about greed, costing billions in taxpayer dollars. Risen traces the long-range consequences to  American leaders run amuck after the  9/11attacks.

In a Times review by Thomas E. Ricks, a former reporter at the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, and an adviser on national security at the new America Foundation, “Pay Any Price” takes us “into an unsettled noirish world in which scam artists and thieves swarm government agencies, peddling phony software and other novel tools for the war against terror.”

According to Ricks, the Times reviewer, Risen claims the Bush White House was “throwing money at the terrorist problem, and plenty of people were willing to catch bundles.”

Risen told Judy Woodruff on the News Hour on Monday, that he took the title of his book from John Kennedy’s Inaugural delivered in the time of the Cold War. In the speech, on January 20, 1962, Kennedy declared, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” The rhetoric has served the purposes of presidents ever since.

I haven’t gotten around to Risen’s new book yet, but I have long been following his  reporting for the Times. He comes across as mild-mannered on the air, but in print he is one of the toughest investigative reporters around. His last book was “State of War”  published in 2006. The government reportedly tried to suppress it, but the author made it to “60 Minutes.”

“If we...had only had information that was officially authorized from the U.S. government,” he has said, “we would know virtually nothing about the war on terror.”

On the News Hour, Risen was asked if there was a parallel in history to our own time when the national security agency looks into our private lives in defiance of the U.S. Constitution? Risen said yes, referring to the  days of  Senator Joseph McCarthy. In the early 1950s, McCarthy made sensational but unproved charges of communist subversion in high government circles.

I was a young reporter in those times up in Eureka and I can say he was a frightening figure. Friends of mine believed McCarthy’s lies about a communist conspiracy inside the Eisenhower White House, State Department and Army. It seemed as if the world had gone to the dogs, howling outside the door.

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 More the World Changes PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 09 October 2014 14:25

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

California and Jerry Brown are planning for a high-speed rail connecting Los Angeles with San Francisco one day and future connections to San Diego and Sacramento. But getting there isn’t everything. In a recent New York Times (Sunday, Sept.21) we learn the maximum speed of a popular old cruise ship in Norway is around 15 knots or about the speed of “a brisk bicycle ride.” The point here is to think slow.

The view of  Norway’s glacial landscape is very slow. In earlier times the boat, the Hurtigruten, was billed  the coastal express. It delivered mail and goods to the coastal residents. Nowadays the old ship is an escape for people weary of the pace at which the world runs. Passengers really have time to dwell on every small rocky island, every sand bar, every little red farmhouse.

The more leisurely pace has extended its image to Norwegian public television. In 2009,  it went on the air with a broadcast of nearly six and a half hours uninterrupted train ride from Bergen to Oslo. The transition was made by putting a camera on the front of the locomotive. We’re told the producers had modest expectations for ratings but the show was a hit – surveys found about 20 percent of all Norwegians tuned in to the panorama at some point during the broadcast.

The writer of the Times piece Reif Larsen, is an American novelist, one-quarter Norwegian. He writes that a 76-year-old man forgot he was not a passenger when the train arrived in Oslo. When he got up to get his overhead luggage he crashed into the living-room curtains.

Two years later the station NRK came up with  an even slower program – a coastal journey lasting 134 hours. It began without much fanfare from Bergen, but viewers began gathering. In several days marching bands welcomed the boat’s arrivals and departures; one politician announced her candidacy. On the last day the queen of Norway waved to the ship from her royal yacht.

“The program,” said Larsen, “became a bona fide national event – half the country watched the voyage at some point.”

In search of an explanation for the popularity of Slow TV, Larsen asked around.  “Oil  reserves,” he said “were discovered off Norway’s coast in 1969 and everything changed. The youngest child had suddenly became rich.”

Twenty years ago Oslo was a provincial town, today Europe’s fastest growing capital anywhere. Skyscrapers and   metal and glass buildings are on the rise. The pace of life has quickened.

“In a relatively short amount of tine, many Norwegians seem to be suffering from a kind of cultural whiplash, leaving them apprehensive for the future and nostalgic for a past that was barely the past.”

On the other hand, as Larsen points out, “Norway, with only five million people, is still small enough (and homogeneous enough) to allow a story or program to become a national event.”

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 .


 
Looking Back at ‘The Roosevelts’ PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 October 2014 18:23

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

The recent Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelts reaped very good ratings. If I read them correctly, nearly good enough to rank in broadcast television’s top ten for the week. I wondered if the portrayal of Theodore Roosevelt, his distant cousin, Franklin, and TR’s niece and FDR’s wife, Eleanor, were intended to show us that there was a time, and not so very long, when extraordinary people led the country, and we followed.

The film was  the work of a company of actors, writers, and producers, notably Geoffrey C. Ward, an author of books on Franklin, and, though it was never mentioned, a polio survivor. He was the right person to narrate Roosevelt’s great trial.

The year before he was stricken, Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945) had been nominated for vice president on the Democratic ticket in 1920. The Democrats were soundly defeated but Roosevelt came out of the debacle unscathed and a favorite in the party to run for the top job one day. But because of polio that day would not come for many years.

FDR’s enemies – and there are many still around – who have accused him of  encouraging the Japanese to attack our naval base at Pearl Harbor. But, as the film makes plain, much of the Pacific fleet was anchored at Pearl Harbor – sitting ducks for an enemy’s surprise assault.

It was all too successful, destroying ships and killing thousands. Grace Tully,  a long-time secretary to FDR, told me when I was researching a piece for FDR’s centennial for the Sunday Morning show that the only time she remembered  seeing him shaken was when he learned of the attack at Pearl Harbor.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) comes across as the larger than life character he was. Cowboy, rancher, scholar, historian, famous for his charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba in the Spanish American War, he was one of the most popular of presidents. Early in his climb he took on corruption and the party bosses of his day.

As president, he made his name as an enemy of the trusts, a conservationist, won passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act and stricter regulations of the railroads. But he also practiced politics as the art of the possible. And when he forgot he lived to regret it, as when he promised not to run for a third term.

His niece, Eleanor, is by no means overshadowed by her illustrious husband and uncle. Eleanor (Anna) Roosevelt (1884-1962), survived a miserable childhood and the indifference of her husband to become not only the most important first lady in American history but  the first lady of  her world. She was a humanist, which my dictionary describes as “a person who has a strong interest in or concern for human welfare, values and dignity.”

Franklin is the star of the film, and rightly so. Elected president four times, he led the country successfully through the Great Depression and the Second World War. His legacy lives, beginning with the New Deal and liberal landmarks like Social Security. As one historian put it, in depression and war, the theme of FDR’s presidency was freedom from fear.

Nice job, Ken Burns and company.

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 .


 
Just in Case PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 25 September 2014 22:00

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

An Op/Ed piece in last Sunday’s New York Times about old people caught the attention of the Lady Friend and me. Written by Jason Karlawish, a professor of medicine and medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, it asked: “When should we set aside a life lived for the future and, instead, embrace the pleasures of the present? Or, putting it another way: When do you start enjoying the pleasures of the present when you still can?

The professor points out that at the start of the 20th century, only one-half of 1 percent of the U.S. population was over the age of 80. “Today,” he writes,  “3.6 percent of the population is over 80, and life is heavily prescribed...More than  half of adults 65 and older are taking five or more prescription medicines, over the counter medications or dietary supplements...(and) the list is long and getting longer.

Getting old in this century, he says, “is all about risk and its reduction.” (I once interviewed a surgeon in the 1980s who predicted that drugs would one day all but replace the need for the branch of medicine he practiced.)

Nowadays, writes Dr. Karlawish, “physicians are warned by pharmaceutical companies that even after they have prescribed drugs to reduce their patients’ risk of heart disease, a ‘residual risk’ remains – more drugs are often prescribed. The tagline for one fitness product declares: “Your health account is your wealth account! Long live living long!’”

When is it time, Dr. Karlawish asks, “to stop saving and spend some of our principal? If you thought you were going to die soon, you just might light up, as well as stop taking your daily aspirin, statin and blood pressure pill. You would spend more time and money on present pleasures, like a dinner out with friends, than on future anxieties.” When it comes to prevention, “there can be too much of a good thing.”

He cites the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association for setting 79 as the upper limit for calculating the10-year risk of developing or dying from heart attack, stroke or heart disease. These institutions also suggest that after 75 it may not be beneficial for a person without heart disease to start taking statins. But that doesn’t mean everyone follows this advice.”

The Lady Friend, a healthy, hearty 81, and I  decided that neither of us (I am 86 in OK health and hearty enough) would start relaxing our ban on cheese, butter, ice cream, pastries, and the like, but with restraint – just in case.

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 Amazing Roosevelts PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 18 September 2014 14:12

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

The first two hours of Ken Burns’ story on the three Roosevelts – Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor – began on Sunday at 8 on PBS. It is running two hours a night over seven nights this week.

The first two hours sagged a little under the celebrity tone and chorus of talking heads. But it is good history. (I wonder how much of TR is taught in schools these days.) The series starts with Theodore who was born in 1858 and ends with Eleanor’s death in 1962. (She was a favorite neice.)

Teddy, as he was affectionately called,  lived an energetic, colorful, controversial life. I have long thought of him as our Churchill, a fluent writer and scholar, an orator and actor, a bold and cunning politician, and something of a con. I remember Churchill’s speeches on the radio when I was growing up in Brookline, Mass. His brave words when Britain stood alone in World War II helped save his country and maybe the rest of us as well. My father, who saw TR on the stump, took pleasure in mimicking the great man, recalling such expressions as “DEE-lighted!”

The Roosevelts are described by the makers of the documentary as an American dynasty. To my mind dynasty implies a closely-knit family like the Windsors of Great Britain or the Romanovs of pre-Communist Russia. The Theodore and Franklin branches were fifth cousins and lived in separate worlds: the Teddy Republicans, on Oyster Bay, Long Island, New York; the Franklin clan on the Hudson River at Hyde Park, New York. They were  Democrats.

 The film picked up  pace on Monday as we followed the rise of young Theodore  from a pampered, sickly childhood to the champion of the strenuous life. We  followed his transformation from patrician to boxer,  hunter, and sportsman. When he was president he was a progressive who battled for the poor, and fought the trusts. He also helped make the U.S. a world power in the early 1900s.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the documentary about the amazing three Roosevelts. We learned, almost as an ad lib on Monday night, that TR suffered from asthma all his life, even through the White House years.

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 .


 
Ken Burns Takes on an American Dynasty PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 11 September 2014 11:47

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

Ken Burns, the relentless producer of TV documentaries, has a new, ambitious film for the multitudes. It is “The Roosevelts, An Intimate History,” chronicling the lives of Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Eleanor Roosevelt “3 members of the most prominent and influential family in American politics.” It’s to run in seven parts (for a total of 14 hours over seven weeks) on Sundays on PBS.

Burns and his team follow the Roosevelts for more than a century beginning with Theodore’s birth in 1858 to Eleanor’s death in 1962.

According to one reviewer, the saga “touches on social movements, technological changes, and not least on methods of warfare.” A tall order even for 14 hours spread over two hours over seven weeks. To say nothing of the “infidelities, gossip, the mother-in-law issues, how media gave FDR a pass on his polio.” We’re told we see a few glimpses of FDR standing to walk, “sadly illuminating.”

In my own reading and talks with people close to Franklin, I would say that the most important crises he faced in his 62 years was when he was stricken with polio at 39 and when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. Roosevelt was 59.

A critic for the Denver Post sounded a sour note when he said that, in part. the story is  “overly celebratory, almost worshipful of this American dynasty...not critical enough.”

Burns is faulted for not “exploring  FDR’s inaction that cost so many lives during the Holocaust,” which my Webster’s describes as “the systematic mass slaughter of European Jews in Nazi concentration camps during World War 2.” I was a kid when World War Two was raging. Roosevelt was a hero to me and fellow Jews for facing up to Hitler. Nonetheless and though I have read widely in the period, the lack of action to do something important during Hitler’s reign of terror remains a sore spot, an open wound, in the affection I otherwise feel towards Franklin Roosevelt.

A point made in the documentary – one that speaks to our own day – is that Teddy, Franklin and Eleanor, patricians all,  “devoted much of their lives to improving the lot of the masses.” Asked the Denver critic.”Why would these privileged, wealthy people devote themselves to public service, sometimes  pushing agendas like the New Deal?”

Burns’ answer is: “What we do is sort of engage mystery. We don’t solve it.”

He sounds reasonable enough, but for my money he’s burying his own story.

That said, I plan to watch Sunday and see for myself.

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 .


 
Equal Rights Is Still a Work in Progress PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 04 September 2014 12:06

GUEST COMMENTARY

By Congresswoman Barbara Lee • Special to the Times

“I never doubted that equal rights was the right direction. Most reforms, most problems are complicated. But to me there is nothing complicated about ordinary equality.” – Alice Paul

It took 144 years for American women to win the right to vote; it was another step on the road to a more perfect union.

The passage of the 19th Amendment was a hard-won victory and this week we commemorated the anniversary as Women’s Equality Day.

Yet, women know all too well that our nation’s promise of gender equality and equality continues to remain elusive.

The 19th amendment didn’t protect women from workplace discrimination, ensure equal pay for equal work or permit women to make their own healthcare decisions. Other laws at the time also excluded many women of color from the right to vote.

Only days after the 19th amendment was ratified, Alice Paul told an interviewer, “It is incredible to me that any woman should consider the fight for full equality won. It has just begun. There is hardly a field, economic or political, in which the natural and unaccustomed policy is not to ignore women.”

In the ninety-four years since ratification, women have increasingly made their voices heard and slowly glass ceilings have been broken.

We have appointed four women to the Supreme Court and sworn in my friend Leader Nancy Pelosi as the first female Speaker of the House.

Thanks to the leadership of Congresswoman Patsy Mink, we have Title IX so women can access educational opportunities, and Title VII to prevent workplace discrimination.

Starting in 2002, California became the first state in the country to guarantee paid family leave. Sadly, only twelve percent of women across the country have access to this benefit.

Yet, the challenges remain.

Women are more likely to live in poverty.

Nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women.

On average, women earn seventy-seven cents for every dollar earned by a man. For women of color, the wage gap is even worse. African American women earn sixty-four cents for every dollar a white man makes; for Latina women, it is fifty-three cents. For Asian American women, the wage gap is eighty-seven cents and for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders, it is sixty-six cents for every dollar a white man makes.

When women earn less, they take home smaller paychecks and that hurts their families and our economy. It is a fact that when women succeed, American succeeds.

As we have seen over the last ninety-four years, women’s equality demands more than just ‘one person, one vote.’

In order to achieve true equality, we need to provide real pathways for women into the middle class, create more opportunities for women in the workplace and embrace programs that help working women juggle their many competing responsibilities.

This is why I am a proud co-sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R. 377) which will provide remedies for discrimination against women in their paychecks.  With the average woman only earned a fraction of a man’s wage and women of color earning less than that, it is time to take action and create mechanisms to prevent and address discrimination.

Similarly, I am also a co-sponsor of the Healthy Families Act (H.R. 1286) which will require paid family leave, something California has lead the nation in providing to working women.

These are small but important steps on the road to true equality between women and men; a road that leads to a more perfect union.

Congresswoman Lee is a member of the House Appropriations and Budget Committees.


 
The Summer of Lost Things PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 04 September 2014 12:04

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

It started in June when my 1992 Honda flunked its smog test. I put money into repairs and it passed. The car was good for another 100,000 miles.

A few days later the Honda was stolen. The police found it almost immediately minus the battery and radio. And the catalytic converter. A bad start to the free-wheeling days of summer,

The next thing was the Lady Friend lost her back scratcher. She depends on it every day. And every day she’s looking for it. She couldn’t find one in the local pharmacies. So she is planning a trip to San Francisco’s Chinatown. She’s sure there are shops there that stock them. I’m hoping she hops a BART soon for my own relief.

I don’t keep good files. I tend to let things pile up. When I need something, it is difficult to find. A few days ago I could not find chapters of a work-in-

progress. We sifted through pile after pile and found only a few chapters. We still have piles in multiples to go.

While we’ve been looking for the missing

chapters, the Lady Friend is also searching for the Flash Drive. The small device backs up all the files on the computer.

We’ve been missing articles of clothing. The Lady Friend’s favorite jacket, for example. She last wore it in July in a hospital room where I was having my annual checkup after surgery. (The news was good.) When we were leaving, the Lady Friend realized she wasn’t wearing her jacket. She went back to get it.

Too late. The cleaners had  finished with the room and had gone on. She retraced her steps. No sign of the jacket. It was light, stylish and a favorite of hers. She’s enjoyed wearing it for five years; now looking

to replace it with something like it. So far no success.

I’d left a blue, fleece-lined lumber jacket in my Honda the day it was stolen. I, too, find myself vainly looking for a favorite article of clothing just like it every now and then. So far no luck.

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 .


 
Locking Up Immigrants PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 28 August 2014 14:16

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

By way of 95-year-old Robert M. Morgenthau, who was District Attorney of New York County for 44 years (he retired in 2009), comes some stunning news for many of us in “blissful ignorance.” In the current issue of The Nation, Morgenthau brings us up-to-date on a little-noted national tragedy. In so many words, he says, it’s time to end the immigrant detention quota.

Morgenthau was one of the country’s most respected  D.A.s. In The Nation article, he lets the many ignorant among us – including myself –  in on one of the most shameful of secrets. If I didn’t know better, I would think I was reading Charles Dickens telling the story of the exploitation of the poor in the plutocratic England of the 19th century.

But Robert Morgenthau, unlike Dickens, did not grow up

poor. His father, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., was Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Treasury, neighbor, and friend; Robert Morgenthau’s grandfather was Henry Morgenthau, Sr., Woodrow Wilson’s secretary to the Ottoman Empire in World War I.

At the heart of the matter is that “Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) keeps at least 34,000 immigrants locked up while they wait for their cases to be heard in immigration court.” It is not because many of these detainees are dangerous or likely to skip their day in court, he says, “but because ICE has to meet an arbitrary quota set by Congress.” The allotment, Morgenthau declares, commonly known as the “detention-bed mandate,” is “a disgrace” and should be done away with. In April 2013, he points out, that when she was Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano said that immigrants should be detained for being threats to public safety… “not an arbitrary bed number.”

Immigration detainees, as he tells us, have not been convicted of any crime, and many are eventually released and allowed to stay in the country. “They should not be languishing for months – sometimes for years in detention facilities. Detainees who are considered… a risk can be outfitted instead more cheaply and more humanely with electronic ankle bracelets ensuring that they will show up for their hearings.”

Yet the detainee quota “persists” for for-profit private prisons holding more than half of all immigration detainees. The “private-prison companies,” he continues, “have no incentive to keep immigrants out of detention, because these companies are paid per bed. Even a small reduction in the quota would be a hit to their bottom line.”

That is why, he asserts, they have poured money into campaign contributions, and lobbying efforts. One private-prison company, for instance, spent more than $13 million between 2005 and 2013 on lobbying. According to Morgenthau, it costs $2 billion a year to imprison enough people to meet the quota – about 40 percent of Immigration and Customs Enforcement – roughly 40 percent of ICE’s $5.3-billion budget for fiscal 2014.

In publishing the article, Morgenthau hopes to raise public awareness of the detainee quota because… “many people do not even know that it exists. Because of this fact, the quota has so far managed to avoid public outrage and continue in existence, thanks mainly to the money and efforts of self-interested private-prison operators and right-wing advocates of treating immigrants harshly.”

“The public’s blissful ignorance regarding the quota,” he adds, “does not excuse Congress from doing the right thing and getting rid of it.”

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 .


 
A Nixon Memoir PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 14 August 2014 12:13

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

Richard Nixon came to Eureka in his comeback attempt to be governor in California in 1962 after losing the presidency to John F. Kennedy two years before. The networks were running something about the race every night.

Since I worked for an NBC affiliate I queried the network’s Los Angeles bureau. Would there be interest in a network spot with Nixon? The reply came back of course!

It was a memorable visit. The whole town turned out, Democrats as well as Republicans, and our fringe groups on the right and left. Everyone‘s curiosity – and pride – was aroused.

Suddenly I was confronted by a face I’d recognized from the news. It was Herb Klein, Nixon’s press advisor. He urged me to skip questions about a $205 thousand loan to a younger Nixon brother from Howard Hughes, the aviator and movie producer. People were asking why Hughes had been so generous? Was Richard Nixon linked to the deal?

Klein told me to save my breath. Nixon won’t talk about it. “Ask him about the Communists: that’s where the news is.”

As I stepped into the hotel room  where the interview was to take place, Buster, my cameraman, was grinning. Nixon’s film crew was going to let us use their camera. No small deal. We did our interviews with an antediluvian movie camera. Nixon’s  camera was state-of-the-art. By now I was grinning, too, like Buster.

When Nixon stepped in for the interview, my heart was in my throat. Then Buster said, “Go!” To hell with Herb Klein, I thought,  and asked about the Hughes loan and much else. I expected Nixon to react in some savage way. But, during the next few minutes the candidate calmly denigrated the Howard Hughes story. Before we sped off for the station with the precious film we hugged the Nixon men for their benevolence.

The clock was moving. I was on deadline. As I was finishing my script Buster emerged from the dark room.

“It’s ruined, the film,” he said. “The sound’s gone – erased, wiped out.” Not a syllable of the interview was on film. Of course NBC  wasn’t interested in a local reporter’s rehash of Nixon’s equivocations.

We sent the film to a lab which, it said, could have been defective: the sound could have been distorted during the interview, something might have gone wrong in the

processing. Not one possibility but several. My suspicion then – as it remains today – was that Herb Klein hoodwinked us into using their wonderful camera, and saw to it that it was

loaded with defective film. I was new at the game, but I should have known better. Protecting Nixon from a hostile press was Herb Klein’s job.

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 .


 
In a Time of Drought PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 07 August 2014 13:47

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

Day after day I pick up the paper in the morning to get the weather. It is the same story: There will be a few sprinkles possible but significant rain is not expected.

Few if anyone seems to be worried. The drought is not the talk of the town. I am surprised at how nonchalant most people seem to be.

It’s as if something terrible was happening on another planet, not on Earth, not  in California. I heard from one concerned reader who suggested diverting water from parts of the country with too much water to places in need like California. For some reason, I recall how we did the impossible in providing food and other vital needs during the Berlin Airlift in the Cold War. It’s a stretch, but I am anything but an engineer.

In his e-mail Luis Santillanes writes, “In the east of the country the problem with too much water exists. Homes flood, people drown, and property is destroyed. It seems to me a pipeline to bring water to the west is a necessary endeavor. This would be a great infrastructure project! It would be as important as the railroads were to the eighteen hundreds.”

I have no idea what sort of  effort it would take to pull off something like this even if there were the will, the money, and the politics behind it.

“At one time,” Mr. Santillanes says, “California was said to have produced forty per cent of the nations food supply. If this water line would be built, every state could pull water from it at one time or another. The system could branch off in different directions just as the railroads branched off of one main line. This system could employ hundreds of workers and would be great for our economy.”

As Carl Sandburg said, “Nothing happens unless first a dream.”

In the meantime we are making do with conservation efforts. In a restaurant you have to ask for water. Some private clubs limit showers to two minutes. We hear that governments around the world are developing plans to conserve electricity and water in the event of a drought or heat wave or forest fire.

There is this extra from Mattier & Ross, the San Francisco Chronicle columnists. They  reported on Monday that three-quarters of residents in a poll by the Public Institute of California “want their local water providers to start mandating reductions.” But the water providers don’t seem to be in any hurry. One reason would be money. The East Bay Municipal Utility District — “drought or no drought — spends $410 million on its water operations and 1,800 employees.”

Water use by its customers is already down by 10 percent. If there is no change through next June, the water agency will show a loss of about $25 million, according to the Chronicle reporters.

So far the agency has been able to absorb the cost. But if East Bay residents heed Governor Jerry Brown’s “call for a 20 percent reduction the district would be out $50 million or so — and that would mean higher rates.”  A Catch-22.

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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