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 .

A Pundit Learns a Lesson PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 21 May 2015 13:54


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times, beat the drums for the invasion of Iraq. On Tuesday of this week, he acknowledged his mistake.

He said:  “From the current vantage point, the decision  to go to war was a clear misjudgment, made by President George W. Bush and supported by 72 percent of the American public who were polled at the time. I supported it, too.”

As the day for the invasion drew closer, millions around the world were taking to the streets and pleading for peace. The Lady  Friend and I marched in San Francisco and Santa Cruz where the turnout was in the hundreds of thousands.

No doubt Brooks’ columns persuaded some in the poll favoring war. General Colin Powell may or may not have been deceived when he went before the UN asserting that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and harboring a terrorist network led by al Qaeda. Powell’s mission was to make the case for war, and no doubt it helped.

Brooks says he has learned some lessons from Iraq. The first “is that we should look at intelligence products with a more skeptical eye. There’s a fable going around now that the intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction  was all cooked by political pressure, that there was a big political conspiracy to lie us into war.”

He rejects the claim, saying it doesn’t “gibe with the facts.” He cites a bipartisan commission that reported in 2005 that Iraq “was a case of human fallibility.” Citing the report as “exhaustive,” Brooks says that the commission discovered “a major intelligence failure.” Not only were its “assessments” wrong, but “there were also serious shortcomings in the way these assessments were made and communicated to policy makers.” The “error” reminds us that “we don’t know much about the world. And much of our information  is wrong.”

Another  question he raises is: “’How much can we really change other nations?”  So far “the outcome in Iraq should remind us that we don’t really know much about how other cultures will evolve....”  Iraq, he muses,  should also teach  us “to be suspicious of leaders who try to force revolutionary, transformational change.”

In sum, he writes, that “ a successful president has to make decisions while...staying open-minded in the face of new evidence, not falling into traps that afflict those who possess excessive self-confidence.”

Good advice for pundits, too.

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 .

New England Stands with Brady PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 14 May 2015 15:28


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

I was nonplussed the other day to hear my cousin up in Maine say that people were ganging up on Tom Brady because they were jealous of the star quarterback and the New England Patriots.

I didn’t expect this from a straight-arrow like him, a respected, retired English professor and author. But the next day the New York Times reported something similar under a headline, “Patriot Fans Around Boston Stand by Brady.”

New Englanders do look after their own. Looking back, the Times recalled  James Michael Curley, mayor of Boston four times in the last century, was once elected when he was serving time for fraud.

Boston, the keystone of New England, is fiercely protective of its own. At the same time it can be a good  judge of character. Massachusetts was the only state that that did not vote for Richard Nixon  in 1972. But there’s another side to the story I’ll get to in a moment.

In my native Boston, the uncrowned capital of New England, one can forgive a transgression or two to keep a rascal like Curley on the political dole. The blurb on the jacket of a 1992 Curley biography, “The Rascal King,” by Jack Beatty, still rings true: “Twice-jailed scoundrel, and the people’s champion, builder of hospitals and schools and shameless grafter, pioneer of the New Deal, “Kingfish of Massachusetts,” spellbinding orator and master of political farce, James Michael Curley was the stuff of legend long before his life became fiction in Edwin O’Connor’s classic novel ‘The Last Hurrah.’”

I was a kid but I remember Curley on the stump and on the radio. He was the best actor in my time except for  Orson Welles and F. D. R.

So, what’s such a big deal about a little loss of air pressure from a few footballs? If the voters  could keep James Michael Curley in office it should not come as a shock that the puzzling disappearance of air pressure from a few footballs fails to shake citizens’ allegiance to their sports idol, Tom Brady, and the Patriots. Brady and his mates have done their duty in restoring New England’s pride when the Red Sox falter as they have since 2013.

Speaking of the Red Sox Is there a New Englander now alive who does not remember ’04 when the Sox broke the Bambino’s curse and won a World Series for the first time in 86 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 .

Presidential Chances PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 23 April 2015 15:36


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

The New York Times conservative  columnist David Brooks likes what he hears from Marco Rubio. The 43-year-old senator, he says,  “doesn’t just speak in the ardent patriotic tones common to the children of immigrants like himself. His very life is the embodiment of the American dream” – raised by working class parents and look where he is today!

Brooks, whom you may remember beat the drums for the invasion of Iraq, is a fan of patriotic rhetoric. It’s a best seller until the bags come home.

“Political audiences,” he says “ always like the patriotic rhetoric...but this year’s Republican audiences have a special hunger for it...There is a common feeling on the right that the American ideal is losing force and focus, and that the American dream is stepping back from its traditional role in the world.”

And guess whose fault that may be? He suggests  President Obama.

“The president,” says Brooks, “doesn’t forthrightly champion the American gospel;” in other words the patriotic rhetoric.

Brooks adds approvingly, “Republicans seem to want their candidates for president to be drenched in the red, white and blue.”

The Republican strategy is to run against Hillary Clinton and President Obama. It may be working too well.

The Democrats are quiet. Too quiet. It’s early. The election is more than a year away. Still, the party should have alternatives to Hillary. She needs to be challenged. Hillary’s been off stage too long. She needs to be sharp against younger people like Jeb Bush to say nothing of a  Marco Rubio.

As Brooks pointed out, Rubio’s “net favorable/unfavorable rating is higher than every other candidate except Scott Walker of Wisconsin. He is at the center of the party. Fifty-six percent of Republican primary voters said they could see themselves supporting Rubio even if he wasn’t their first choice at the time, which put him above every other  candidate,” according to an NBC News/Wall Street poll, cited by Brooks.

So, he says, “it’s probably right to see Rubio as the second most likely nominee, slightly behind Jeb Bush and slightly ahead of Walker.”

High time for Hillary to take on a couple of sparring partners like Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, among others.

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 .

An Hispanic President for America? PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 16 April 2015 14:28


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

An Op-Ed writer in the New York Times earlier this month dredged up the old news that Jeb Bush mistakenly listed himself as Hispanic on a 2009 voter registration application. Bush called it a slip-up.

Democrats in Florida wondered whether Bush, a former governor and then a likely presidential candidate, might have committed a crime. Bush laughed it off as an innocent mistake. “Don’t think I’ve fooled anyone!”

The author of the piece, Eli Finkel, is a professor in psychology, not politics. He wrote, “As a psychological issue, however, Mr. Bush’s error is a prominent entry point into some fascinating questions about what shapes human identity.”

“The first thing to notice is that Mr. Bush made a very specific error. He did not declare himself African-American or Native American. He declared himself Hispanic. Mr. Bush’s wife is from Mexico. Might his Hispanic identity have played a role in his voter registration error?”

Mr. Bush is also a politician. He can count. According to a study about Latino voters in CQ Researcher, the Latino electorate is “expanding rapidly and reshaping American politics.” It is rising up from 17 percent today. “As their influence grows, both the Democratic and Republican parties are courting Latino voters. President Obama won 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012, reflecting the Democratic Party’s traditional dominance among Latinos.”

Latinos are running for president. Senator Marco Rubio, the 43-year-old son of Cuban immigrants weighed in this week. It is not far-fetched to see a Latino or Latina elected president. The taboos are fading.

Hillary’s made it official: she’s running, early and hard. Can a woman candidate for vice president be far behind? CQ Researcher cites demographers  who say “Latinos represent about 17 percent of the population – 54 million people – making them the single largest ethnic or racial minority.” By 2060 the Latino population share is expected to reach 31 percent.

Statistics are spinach. But this time the stats are dramatic and painting a new portrait of our country. Long overdue we’re focusing on Latinos. The number of Latinos today is almost six times larger than in 1970 and between 2000 and 2012 it accounted for more than half of the U.S. overall population growth.

Gary Langer, who runs a survey research firm, says: “If you’re selling politics and you’re neglecting the Hispanic market, someone is eating your lunch.”

In fact, we could windup with a Hispanic as president: Jeb Bush or somebody else.

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 Grapes of Wrath Part 2 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 09 April 2015 14:13


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

To tap the drought dilemma – no pun intended – I turned to the Lady Friend. The Lady Friend and I were discussing the drought, and she said the first thing she would do would be to shut down the fracking.

Why would you shut down fracking?

Because we don’t need it,” she said. We don’t need that oil. Fracking takes a lot of water and pollutes the existing underground water. (Last year 70 million gallons of water went for fracking in California.)

The Lady Friend, who grew up in a North Dakota farm family, would petition the feds to subsidize the farmers with water-saving methods for irrigation. Some of the farmers already have this, but not enough of them. It’s very costly to put in, but in the end it’s like putting in solar – in the long run it pays for itself – environmentally it  pays for itself.

Develop a system for recycling water. It’s good to ask people to cut down on their use of water, but how do you do it in a fair way? Why should people who live in apartments or condominiums have to cut down as much as people with large homes and swimming pools? This is what the lawmakers should give thought to.

She’ s no expert about recycling, but she knows – reads articles – that water can be recycled.

“I don’t know how much we do but I don’t think we do enough.”

In any event, as she points out, the drought should not come as a shock to anyone. “We live in a desert. We shouldn’t have developed all this land into housing. Too many people, too much development, and the bill is now due. Now we have to pay.”

It seems to me the politicians have been passing the buck, doing nothing or next to nothing, a hot potato, in which there was not much of a payoff for them.

The other day, I was amazed to read in the New York Times that Governor Jerry Brown was praised because he and his legislative allies – “pulled off something of a political miracle last year, overcoming decades of resistance from the farm lobby to adopt the state’s first groundwater law with teeth.”

The paper goes on to say, however, that California is not so far ahead of the country on other environmental issues. It became the last state in the arid West “to move toward serious limits on the use of its groundwater.”

I would ask where have Brown and others been all these years other than kicking the can down the road? Experts have warned us repeatedly that California is a desert and has experienced years of drought going back centuries. Our leaders have done a poor job of heeding history.

“Last week,” the Times continued, “Brown imposed mandatory cuts in urban water use, the first ever. He exempted farmers, who already had to deal with huge reductions in surface water from the state’s irrigation works.”

As Brown added, “They’re providing most of the fruits and vegetables of America to a significant part of the world.” In normal times, “agriculture consumes roughly 80 percent of the surface water available for human use in California. Experts say the state’s water crisis will not be solved without a major contribution from farmers.”

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 Typewriter PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 02 April 2015 13:13


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

My trials with the computer are no secret among people who know me.

I am a displaced person from the age of typewriters who came kicking and screaming into cyberspace.

I have missed typewriters ever since computers took over the world. I am not, for example, like one old friend who ditched his typewriter the day he bought his first computer. In fact, I’ve kept an antiquated Olympia, a weighty table model, not as a writing machine but as a reminder of a simpler age.

The insecurity of the electronic miracle drives me nuts. The other day my printer was on the fritz. But if it’s not the printer, it’s the ink cartridge, or the screen, or the modem, or a short, or the wires, or a finger strays and presto! I’ve lost a document, weeks of work down the rabbit hole.

Saving on the hard disk is not security enough. Think power outages. So think CDs, or  SanDisk’s Cruzer Micro. The friend who made a gift of the latter says it’s a cinch to connect to the computer. And probably it is, but the Lady Friend and I are still figuring it out.

I’m telling you all this because after the printer failed I dropped in at an office equipment store that sells typewriters, old typewriters, to be sure.

“I just want to look at your typewriters. I don’t know if I’ll buy anything.”

“Take your time,” said a burly fellow who didn’t stir from a desk in a large room with all sorts of devices for business. “Take all the time you like.”

I liked the Smith Corona for $180 but I really liked the Olivetti for $250. But then I asked myself, why am I doing this? I’ll never use the typewriter. I’ll never give up the computer.

“I like the Olivetti,” I said. “But I need to sleep on it.” I hesitated, then wrote him a check on account for $50.

That night the printer was running again, and to my relief functioned flawlessly. In the morning I went back to the store lugging my old Olympia. The burly fellow fiddled with it a moment, then we bargained. In the end I wound up paying a few dollars off the listed price and left happy with the Olivetti.

When I got home I showed the typewriter to the Lady Friend. “It’s very nice,” she said. “But you’ll never use it.”

This column originally appeared on March 11, 2010.

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 and Forward PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 March 2015 14:37


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

A record 30 million people were watching on television to General  Douglas MacArthur’s Farewell Address to Congress on April 19, 1951. President  Truman  had relieved him of his command in Korea. Truman feared MacArthur threatened a  wider conflict  by attacking China.

“In war,” MacArthur declared, “there can be no substitute for victory.” The general  was wildly cheered. For a time there was talk in Republican circles of running MacArthur for president. One  senator  confided in a reporter he had never feared more for his country than during MacArthur’s speech. “I honestly felt that if the speech had gone on much longer there might have been a march on the White House.”

In his Truman biography David  McCullough said Truman had not listened to MacArthur or watched on television. He kept busy at his desk. He did, however, read MacArhur’s speech. Privately, he said he thought it “A bunch of damn B.S.”  In time enthusiasm for the general  waned.

The invitation by Republicans in bringing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau of Israel to address Congress  was similarly an insult to a sitting president. As many as 60 Democrats boycotted the event, but that was not enough. All of them  should have left empty seats.

Now Netanyahu  is apologizing. Not for playing a key role in rudeness to the   president of three hundred and twenty million Americans, but to racist comments concerning the 1.4 million Arab citizens of his own country.  (In a nation  of 8.3 million, Jews are 75 %, of the Israeli population.)

On the eve of  the election Netanyahu said Arab citizens were going to the polls in large numbers. Many interpreted this as racist, a last-minute bid to win a close election. According to the New York Times, the White House remains furious with Netanyahu for appearing to turn his back “on a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict.”

After the voting, Netanyahu said, as politicians often do when their remarks backfire, that he was misunderstood. He insisted he was the same fellow with the same convictions. He supported the idea of a Palestinian state, though now he equivocated – not under present conditions.

The Obama White House was not impressed. It said a two-state solution “remains our goal today, because it is the only way to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.”

In his day, Harry Truman was snubbed by a Republican Congress by inviting MacArthur to speak; just as an invitation to Netanyahu was a slap at Barack Obama.

Today most people say Truman did the right thing by firing MacArthur. It made him unpopular, but not forever. Historians rank him today as among the near-great presidents. Who knows what history  will say about Obama but I have a hunch the Republicans will rue the day they insulted the office of the  presidency.

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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