Columns
Remembering a Friend PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 11 February 2016 13:19

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

I turned 88 last November, and for some time I’ve been paying the price. My good friend, Chris Brown, departed most recently after a fall near his Manhattan apartment.

Christian Roy Brown was about 82.

I am better aware of the emptiness of life with the absence of old friends.

When I was young, I remember hearing about old people putting money away for the long journey home to their native country to die. It was laughable. It makes more sense to me now.

When dire warnings began on the East Coast and snow began falling recently, I was reminded of my friend Chris Brown. Sometimes during a big storm, he’d get into a heavy winter coat and walk out on the tenth floor balcony of his apartment. Sometimes he reached for the phone to share his excitement with Rainey and me.

Chris and I met when I joined the Today Show in the spring of 1964. He was already an old hand on the staff. One morning after the show I took Chris home with me. My wife, Donna, had invited him, a fellow southerner, for breakfast. After grits, bacon and fried potatoes, I was never able to rid myself of Chris Brown’s shadow from my door.

He’d come to New York in the late 1950s or early 1960s, from Abingdon, a town in western Virginia near the Tennessee line. He was educated at Swanee, an Episcopalian college, known for its fine faculty of writers and artists. For such a young man, I found him remarkably fluent in the classics. But he never made a show of it. He was fluent in country music and just as modest about his knowledge.

The news was his calling. He landed a reporter’s job at the New York Times, and was doing fine but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t Faulkner. He returned to Appalachia to live in a cabin and write his heart out. But before long, he was looking for a job back in the news. The Times was probably too proud to take him back.

He wound up on the Today Show as a writer and producer. He remained on the show for many years until age caught up with him and he returned to his apartment full-time where he lived out his 80 and some years.

Our friendship was lit by humor. The same could be said of other friends who have passed on in recent years: Bill Moran, a colleague on “Sunday Morning,” and Lee Tredanari, a producer and TV director, and a neighbor of ours in New York. What survives in memory is the humor.

Thomas Carlyle, the 19th-century Scottish essayist and historian, said it for the ages: “True humour springs not more from the head than from the heart; it is not contempt, its essence is love; it issues not in laughter, but in still smiles which lie far deeper.”

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 .


 
Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 04 February 2016 14:37

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

"Nuremberg” is a documentary film about the trial of Nazi big shots before an international military tribunal for crimes against humanity duirng the Second World War. Nuremberg was picked as the site for the hearing  because it was the German city where Hitler designed  the Nuremberg Laws in 1935 depriving Jews of German citizenship and  forbidding marriage or sexual relations between Jews and  “citizens of Germany.” Those laws, and the massive Nazi Party rallies in the Bavarian city during Hitler’s rise to power and from 1933 through 1938, preordained the mass murders of millions which today is known as the Holocaust.

I have a particular interest in the documentary because it was produced and written by an old boss of mine, Stuart Schulberg. In the 1970s Stuart ran the NBC Today Show when I was one of his writer-producers. A superb journalist,  he paid more attention to stories that the public should know about than what focus groups targeted. When ratings for a new competitor, ABC’s Good Morning, America, began gaining ground on Today, Stuart was fired. (He died in 1979 at 56.)

Back in the summer of 1945 he was in the Navy, and along with his brother Budd (who would write the movie classic “On the Waterfront”) they set out to find films and photographs to be used as evidence in the trial against Hitler’s top lieutenants at Nuremberg. In a hunt for evidence, according to the Wall Street Journal, “Reels of film were snatched from fires thought to have been set by one of the German film editors assisting the brothers. Budd Schulberg personally apprehended Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s favorite film-maker, at her Austrian chalet to work alongside him in the editing room as a material witness.”

When the film was finished – directed and written by Stuart – it was distributed in 1948 all over Germany but never shown in the U.S. Washington probably feared inciting anti-German feeling at a time when the U.S. was building an anti-Communist alliance in western Europe in the early days of the Marshall Plan and the Cold War.

As they say, the past is prologue.  Sandra Schulberg, Stuart’s daughter, a filmmaker and Columbia University professor, saw a German-language version of her father’s film at the 2004 Berlin Film Festival. Her interest deepened when she took inventory of her father’s papers. Today, thanks to his daughter’s efforts, Stuart’s magnum opus is restored. It has been playing in theatres in New York, San Francisco, Berkeley, San Rafael, among other cities.

“We had to start over from scratch, she told the Journal interviewer. Only 25 hours of film footage were shot of the trial but the entire proceedings were recorded on audio. Matching sound and image was an act of creative will and filial love.

Stuart hesitated over a title. First he wrote, “Day of Wrath,” and then “A New Day Dawns.” Finally, on the final script dated April 1948 – he wrote in pencil, “Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today.”

This column originally appeared on February 3, 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 .


 
January 18, 2003 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 28 January 2016 16:43

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

(News item: In his address to Congress Tuesday night, President Bush ignored the peace demonstrations in this country and abroad and said the United States would go to war alone, if need be, against Iraq.)

he warm, sunlit sky helped, as did the carnival humor of many a costume and banner. What helped more, though, was that we were with people who thought as one about the threatened war, and about Bush himself and the people around him, and about the administration’s heartless economic policy that is making life rewarding for corporations and the wealthy at the expense of the ordinary citizen.

That Saturday – January 18, 2003 – I marched with my Lady friend, an old lefty like myself, and a good friend of ours, though a more restrained lefty than either of us, and my Lady Friend’s daughter, and granddaughter, Mary.

The march began at the Embarcadero, and swept down Market to the Civic Center, maybe a three-mile route. Little Mary, age two, covered the ground in a stroller. Sometimes she raised a royal hand, but mostly she exercised her sovereign prerogative and slept.

Everyone remarked about the turnout, took pride in being among the swelling crowds, and tried to guess our numbers. The BART people had spoken in awe of the crowds, bearing witness to a manswarm at the gates before they opened, as early as five-thirty in the morning. At noon, Market Street was awash in human traffic, and yet more multitudes on the horizon.

We ran into neighbors and other people we knew, even a stray relative. Sentiments spilled over into lively conversations, as people took heart from our great numbers to get rid of the monkey on our back: the monkey of intimidation and self-censorship in a day when criticism of the government’s one-way war policy is deemed unpatriotic or worse; and when even criticism of Bush’s tax cut – because they are not likely to produce jobs – is denounced as class warfare.

Despite the tens of thousands, this was a protest by the middle class, people determined to look respectable and act responsibly but have their say. No bomb-throwers in this mob.

Our usually restrained old lefty, a gentleman not given to emotional outbursts, was grinning. He’s lame but he walked with vigor.

“Give peace a chance,” he chanted, marvelling at demonstrators who had gone to great lengths to make puppets and birds, and a huge dove, and clothing and accessories, as in a play or masquerade.

Caught up in the festive atmosphere, people in the cluster of demonstrators around us picked up the chant from the protests of the Vietnam War.

My Lady Friend, recovering from last year’s knee surgery, still walks with pain. But, on this day, my upbeat companion strode gamely ahead.

Everybody felt good, and a little proud of themselves. For some time in the future, I believe, the people who answered the call on the 18th will remember the day that they stood up and were counted, perhaps as many as 200,000 strong, in exercising their royal prerogatives as Americans.

This column originally appeared on January 30, 2003.

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 .


 
What King’s Dream Means Today PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 21 January 2016 17:49

012116n8By Congresswoman Barbara Lee

Every year our nation pauses  to commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and recommit ourselves to realizing his dream of equality and justice for all.

Last year, our nation celebrated the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment – one of the most significant dates in American history: the end of slavery with the passage of an amendment to the Constitution.

This amendment initiated our nation’s civil rights movement that continues to this day.

In the past 150 years, we have come a long way towards true and lasting equality for all.

Legal segregation has ended.

America’s first African American  president  is serving his second term in the White House. In Congress, the Congressional Black Caucus has grown to account for nearly a quarter of the Democratic Caucus and includes 20 women.

And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, 2.3 million African Americans have gained health insurance and the uninsured rate for African Americans has  declined nearly 7 percentage points.

Yet, there is still much work to be done.

If all Americans are to live Dr. King’s dream, we can no longer ignore the painful truth that race remains a factor in every aspect of our society.

In 1964, Dr. King accepted the Nobel Peace Prize and delivered his “Triple Evils” speech to address the issues of racism, militarism, and poverty in our nation.

He said, “The well off and the secure have too often become indifferent and oblivious to the poverty and deprivation in their midst. Ultimately, a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘least of these.’”

Dr. King was a fierce advocate for ending poverty. Still today, more than 46 million Americans live in poverty. As chair of the Democratic Whip’s Task Force on Poverty, Income Inequality and Opportunity, I’m working with my colleagues to craft real solutions that create ladders of opportunity into the middle class while strengthening the economic futures of all families.

The poverty rate for African Americans are nearly triple the rate of white Americans.  The unemployment rate for African Americans is significantly higher than the rate of their white counterparts and the wealth gap has continued to widen between white Americans and African Americans.

Similarly, far too many families continue to live in the shadows, in fear of being torn apart by our broken immigration system. It’s past time for Congress to pass bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform to ensure families stay together, our economy grows and all have the opportunity to live the American dream.

Bias, injustice and institutional racism remain in our fundamentally broken criminal justice system; and, voting rights are still under attack.

The Supreme Court’s decision in  Shelby vs. Holder again opened the door for voter discrimination, racial-motivated redistricting and active voter suppression. Tragically, House Republicans refuse to bring up bipartisan legislation to restore and protect the sacred right to vote.

But like Dr. King, we must valiantly beat the drum for justice.

Today, I once again join with the Congressional Black Caucus and advocates from around the nation in calling on Speaker Ryan, Majority Leader McCarthy, and Judiciary Chairman Goodlatte to make restoring the Voting Rights Act a priority.

As Dr. King said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others?”

As we celebrate today, I encourage all Americans to live Dr. King’s legacy by serving others and their communities.

Congresswoman Lee is a member of the Appropriations and Budget Committees, the Steering and Policy Committee, is a Senior Democratic Whip, former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and co-chair of the Progressive Caucus. She serves as chair of the Whip’s Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity.


 
January 18, 2003 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 21 January 2016 17:43

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

(News item: In his address to Congress Tuesday night, President Bush ignored the peace demonstrations in this country and abroad and said the United States would go to war alone, if need be, against Iraq.)

The warm, sunlit sky helped, as did the carnival humor of many a costume and banner. What helped more, though, was that we were with people who thought as one about the threatened war, and about Bush himself and the people around him, and about the administration’s heartless economic policy that is making life rewarding for corporations and the wealthy at the expense of the ordinary citizen.

That Saturday – January 18, 2003 – I marched with my Lady friend, an old lefty like myself, and a good friend of ours, though a more restrained lefty than either of us, and my Lady Friend’s daughter, and granddaughter, Mary.

The march began at the Embarcadero, and swept down Market to the Civic Center, maybe a three-mile route. Little Mary, age two, covered the ground in a stroller. Sometimes she raised a royal hand, but mostly she exercised her sovereign prerogative and slept.

Everyone remarked about the turnout, took pride in being among the swelling crowds, and tried to guess our numbers. The BART people had spoken in awe of the crowds, bearing witness to a manswarm at the gates before they opened, as early as five-thirty in the morning. At noon, Market Street was awash in human traffic, and yet more multitudes on the horizon.

We ran into neighbors and other people we knew, even a stray relative. Sentiments spilled over into lively conversations, as people took heart from our great numbers to get rid of the monkey on our back: the monkey of intimidation and self-censorship in a day when criticism of the government’s one-way war policy is deemed unpatriotic or worse; and when even criticism of Bush’s tax cut – because they are not likely to produce jobs – is denounced as class warfare.

Despite the tens of thousands, this was a protest by the middle class, people determined to look respectable and act responsibly but have their say. No bomb-throwers in this mob.

Our usually restrained old lefty, a gentleman not given to emotional outbursts, was grinning. He’s lame but he walked with vigor.

“Give peace a chance,” he chanted, marvelling at demonstrators who had gone to great lengths to make puppets and birds, and a huge dove, and clothing and accessories, as in a play or masquerade.

Caught up in the festive atmosphere, people in the cluster of demonstrators around us picked up the chant from the protests of the Vietnam War.

My Lady Friend, recovering from last year’s knee surgery, still walks with pain. But, on this day, my upbeat companion strode gamely ahead.

Everybody felt good, and a little proud of themselves. For some time in the future, I believe, the people who answered the call on the 18th will remember the day that they stood up and were counted, perhaps as many as 200,000 strong, in exercising their royal prerogatives as Americans.

This column originally appeared on January 30, 2003.

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 .


 
Massachusetts PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 14 January 2016 16:17

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

When I was a child my mother hosted rallies at our house for Republican candidates from Brookline, a suburb of Boston. We owned the house but rented the ground floor and lived in a modest upstairs duplex.

My dad, a flooring contractor, voted Republican as well but only because he thought the party was good for small business. He was no advocate like my mother.

An idealistic lawyer, my mother had embraced the Republicans as an antidote to Democratic politics in Boston which on more than one occasion she described as a sewer of corruption. Its flamboyant star was the  roguish, twice-jailed James Michael Curley, a congressman, Boston mayor, and Massachusetts governor. His portrait was drawn for the ages by Edwin O’Connor in his novel, “The Last Hurrah.”

Curley spoke in a mellifluous voice – “Friends of the radio audience”  is how he addressed us, lacing his oratory with poetic and literary references. The effect was disarming – there is no better word for it. Shakespeare was a favorite author and often quoted, much to the consternation of opponents.

The masses adored him. He built hospitals and schools, and parks and beaches where there had been wastelands and swamps. And, like many a Democratic boss who  pled the case for the poor and downtrodden, he lived in Republican splendor from kickbacks from municipal contractors. But he was funny, and  astute, and, yes,  a rascal to be sure.

On Sunday drives with my father, we would pass Curley’s estate on the parkway. On fair days we would see him walking the grounds with his daughter, acknowledging the salutes from the cacophony of horns of motorists in the manner of a father of a great family.

But back to my mother and her Republicans. Before her guests arrived I’d be shooed up to my room. When things were heating up down there, sparked by oratory and applause, I stole out of bed, crept down the stairs, opened a crack in the door, looked down at the guests and the politicians, a glamorous scene to behold. But not so glamorous as to change my political affiliation. I never told her until I was a grownup but, in fact, I found the rascal Curley more interesting than her Republicans, shameless grafter though he was. He was the most colorful politician in Massachusetts history in the years when I was growing up.

All this came back to me in light of  the Massachusetts election. That morning I read a tribute by David Brooks to the American people in his column in the New York Times. “The American people,” he wrote, “are not always right, but their basic sense of equilibrium is worthy of the profoundest respect.”  I wonder, did he have the Democratic debacle in Massachusetts in mind  before the polls closed? The American  electorate often fails to pick the best candidate, and support issues that are in their own self-interest, as I believe happened in Massachusetts.

In his 2004 book, “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” Thomas Frank demonstrated how the working classes in Kansas voted against their own interests,  distracted  by cultural issues such as abortion and gay marriage, despite evidence that Republican economic policies “wreaked havoc” on the working class and the poor for the benefit of the very wealthy. When the book was published in Britain and Australia, the title was changed to ask, “What’s the Matter with America?”

That said, I think the results in Massachusetts underscore the need for the White House to focus more on creating jobs and curbing the banks. On health care, too, there has not been a bold enough leadership at the top. It’s a new day for politics in America.

This column originally appeared on January 21, 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 .


 
The Statistics Are Never the Whole Story PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 07 January 2016 15:46

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

As the Lady Friend was heading out for her morning walk, I reminded her not to forget to bring back a pack of cigarettes. Non-filter, I added.

“But of course,” she said. “Don’t I always?”

It’s a standard joke. We’re often feigning a smoke. Although we both kicked the habit long ago, truth to tell, we still miss ‘em, especially with our cocktails before dinner.

When the Lady Friend returned, I was chuckling over an item in the paper. It was about Obama’s health, diet, and struggle to quit smoking.

“What’s so funny?” she said.

“The president’s bad cholesterol is up 42 points since 2007,” I read. “Robert Gibbs, his press secretary claims, Obama loves burgers, French fries, and desserts like ordinary people  and like millions and millions across the country he’s been unable to stop smoking, too. The press may think the president carries arugula in his pocket to snack on, but that’s not so.”

“That is funny?”

“It’s smart politics. When Obama was elected a lot of people thought he walked on water. Now we know he’s not perfect. He’s a politician 24/7 trolling for votes, and I say it’s about time.” But the president ought to quit cigarettes cold turkey and set an example.

A heavy smoker in my youth I quit at 35 in 1964. The Lady Friend, a light smoker, called it quits twenty-five years ago at 50 when she started walking.

Everybody’s heard the statistics.

Cigarettes kill more than four hundred thousand people in this country every year; a tragic irony since smoking is the number one preventable cause of death.

But statistics can never be the story.

A few days later, around eleven on Sunday morning, the phone rang. It was the wife of an old pal with whom I’d shared many exciting years on “Sunday Morning” at CBS. One of the finest journalists you’ll ever meet, a guy with the sharpest Maine wit, and one of my dearest friends, had died the night before. We’d last seen him and his wife last September up in Maine. He didn’t look so hot. I pegged him to be about seventy-five.

Although I thought I knew the answer, I asked his wife the cause of death. After a struggle, she answered, “COPD.”

“COPD?”

She filled in the blank. “Chronic Obstructed Pulmonary Disease.”

“Cigarettes?”

“Cigarettes.”

This column originally appeared on March 4, 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 .


 
A More Divided Country PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 31 December 2015 12:45

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

In 1948 Harry Truman traveled 21,928 miles on his famous whistle-stop campaign across the country by train. “I want to see the people,” he explained.

“There were three major tours: first  cross-country to California for fifteen days; then a six-day tour of the Middle West; followed by a final, hard-hitting ten days in the big population centers of the Northeast and a return home to Missouri...for fifteen days,” David McCullough wrote in “Truman,” his biography of our 33rd president.

McCullough quoted an old Truman friend, Charlie Ross, who remembered, “There were no deep-hidden schemes, no devious plans, nothing that could be called, in the language of political analysts, `high strategy.’” The president took his case to the country in what seemed  a lost-cause against Thomas E. Dewey, the Republican candidate. In the end, Truman would defeat Dewey in the upset of the century.

In 1960 John Kennedy campaigned in 49 states, Richard Nixon in all 50 in a contest that Kennedy won with a razor-thin lead of 112,827 votes or 0.10% of the popular vote. Kennedy, however, won the electoral vote handily, 303 to Nixon’s 219.

In Sunday’s New York Times, Adam Liptak, who covers the Supreme Court for the newspaper, argues that in Tuesday’s presidential contest the race was viewed as just as close as in 1960 “but the candidates ...campaigned in only 10 states since the political conventions. There are towns in Ohio that had received more attention than the entire West Coast.”  In effect, the current system “disenfranchises most Americans.”

In more recent years, according to the research, the tendency for people with a similar outlook is to live near one another. Thus the country is increasingly split between  two Americas, the more conservative (Republican in the middle and south of the continent) and the more liberal (Democratic) on the coasts.

The notion of disenfranchisement is rooted “in the fact that almost every state chooses to allocate its electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis. Thus, a candidate confident of winning or sure of losing a bare majority of a state’s popular vote has no reason to expend resources there.”

In 2008 voter turnout in the fifteen states that received most of the candidates’ attention was 67 percent. In 2012 the focus has been on even fewer states. The difference, says Liptak, increases the chances of one candidate carrying the Electoral College, the other the popular vote, making for a more divided country.

This column first appeared on November 8, 2012.

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 .


 
But We Didn’t Call It Christmas PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 17 December 2015 08:53

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

(I’ve told this story before but I like to think of it as a Christmas Carol for the holiday season.)

My mother came to this country in the early years of the last century from Lithuania where Jewish people lived pent-up in ghettos and where she knew little of the outside world. Her worst nightmares, which continued into old age, were of the Russian police swooping down on her neighborhood on horseback, ransacking stalls, shops and houses and attacking innocent people.

She was eleven when she arrived here, speaking no English, knowing nothing at all about the strange, new land called America. The third of eight immigrant children, she was inspired by the progressives of the day, led by Theodore Roosevelt, a man ahead of his time, and perhaps of our own as well.

“There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americans,” Theodore Roosevelt said. We were all one people, newcomers and native-born alike.

The openness of the new country won her confidence. She was eager to be accepted, taken as just another American.

When her boat docked at Ellis Island she had no birth certificate, no legal document attesting to a date of birth. 

The world was a lot looser then. People moved about with far fewer restrictions than they do today. The immigration officers could not spell most of the strange names, let alone pronounce them; so they gave people new names.

Once she was settled in Boston with her family, my mother took note of the fuss made over the Christmas holiday, saw the world around her take on new life with evergreen trees decorated with lights and ornaments, department store windows a profusion of color and fantasy, people singing carols, and on Christmas morning children setting out in a town blanketed in snow, with shiny new boots ands coats, caps and sweaters and skates and sleds, and all because of Christmas.

But my mother’s family didn’t celebrate Christmas. Her father was ultra orthodox, a fan of Teddy Roosevelt to be sure, but he would have raised hell, fire and damnation if my mother or any of his children dared commit such a sacrilege.

And so my mother faced a quandary. She wanted to honor her father but she wanted to be in step with the rest of her splendid new country, especially on this most wondrous of days.

And so it came to pass that my mother resolved her problem by taking December 25 for her birthday. That’s how she got around the taboo, and got her presents and parties on this special day. But we never called it Christmas. Not even after my grandfather died. Not ever, not in all my mother’s years, and she lived to a ripe age of eighty-seven.

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 .


 
All Politics is Local PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 10 December 2015 13:02

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

President Obama went on television Sunday night to acknowledge the terror threat and attempted to reassure a jittery country that “we will overcome it” after the attack in San Bernardino. However he said little if anything that was new, as he tried to reassure the country.

Ever since the Paris attacks, the President has urged Americans not to let fear turn them against Muslims. He tried to use the attack in San Bernardino, as he has in other mass shootings, to call for stricter gun laws. His persistence produced zilch.

Most Republicans and some Democrats have refused to move on bills that would do away with background loopholes at gun shows, limit the distribution of ammunition or prohibit the sale of certain kinds of semiautomatic weapons, according to the New York Times.

In October, Mr. Obama , turned to advisers to see whether there were actions he could take without the approval of Congress. His advisers  reportedly are at work on some ideas that would lead to more background checks. A proposal  would face “legal, practical and political challenges,” the aides say. Until you hear otherwise we remain hostage to the gun lobby.

People vote their fears, not their hopes, James Farley told me in an interview back in 1964. Farley was Franklin Roosevelt’s campaign manager in FDR’s sweeping victories in 1932 and 1936 in the Great Depression.

This is the incendiary card Donald Trump is playing with. He is calling for the government to bar Muslims from entering the country. Trump’s  poll numbers rose in part part after repeating false stories that thousands of Muslims partied in New Jersey on September 11, 2001.

The Times said several Republican strategists believe that Trump’s maneuver is in part to challenge rivals Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida to match Trump  in audacity.

As Jim Farley might have said: There is no freedom from fear in an election year. All politics is local.

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 to Jimmy Carter PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 03 December 2015 19:34

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

I’ve been figuring to do a column about Jimmy Carter. He’s up there at 91, a sick fellow. In 2015, at age 90, he was diagnosed with melanoma which had metastasized to his liver and brain.

Carter told us of his condition on TV recently. I took him for a weak president in his time in office, when, in fact, he was a strong and courageous president like the much-

maligned Harry Truman. I need new glasses.

After he was trounced in a bid for re-election in 1980 by Reagan, he went on to become a bigger man. He did not retire, he didn’t sulk, he didn’t go off to cash in on his eminence and contract for million-dollar speeches. He went on to work for the world, for peace, for human rights, for a better world, writing books and serving – dedicating his life and energy to the betterment of mankind.

The Carter Center in Atlanta  became a  place of good works and was recognized with a Nobel Prize. It pursued the cause of  human rights around the world. When he was in office (l977–1981), Carter denounced the trials of Soviet dissidents. In Warsaw, he spoke out for the rights of Eastern Europeans. He condemned racism in South Africa. He criticized Castro’s dictatorship in Cuba and Idi Amin in Uganda.

When Carter was running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1974, I spent a few days in New Hampshire.  My boss, Stuart  Schulberg, asked what I thought of the Georgia governor’s chances? Was he a strong contender? I didn’t think so. He came across as distant and wary, not very likeable. Not the pandering politician reporters seem to adore. Ronald Reagan, for example.

Stuart was interested in Jimmy Carter, the peanut farmer and Georgia governor. I said he wasn’t going anywhere. Stuart, my senior by perhaps as much as 10 years, was more experienced in the ways of the great world.

Carter was light years ahead of his time. He was aware of climate change and the consequences of lack of concern before most of us. He was ridiculed for wearing a sweater when the subject he addressed was energy and the environment.

In 1977, in his first full day as president, Carter redeemed his campaign pledge to pardon the estimated 10,000 draft evaders of the Vietnam War era. His worst day in office was on April 24 of 1980 when the effort to rescue 52 American hostages held captive for more than a year in Iran ended in failure. It contributed to Carter’s defeat in 1980.

Jimmy Carter, our 39th president, was born in Plains, Georgia in 1924. He has been a prolific writer since leaving the White House. In “An Hour Before Daylight,” a memoir of a rural boyhood, he speaks of a connection with a world long ago but, as William Faulkner might have said, “in a past that has not yet passed.”

Carter wrote, “Although I was born more than half a century after the Civil War over, “it was a living reality in my life. I grew up in one of the families whose people could not forget that we had been conquered, while most of our neighbors were black people whose grandparents had been liberated in the same conflict. Our two races, although inseparable in our daily lives, were kept apart by social custom, misinterpretation of Holy Scriptures, and the unchallenged law of the land as mandated by the United States…”  He sometimes could be a scold but it was for the right reason.

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 .


 
Thank Heavens for Bernie PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Monday, 23 November 2015 22:35

NOTES OF A REPORTER AT LARGE

By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

In last Saturday’s Democratic debate, John Dickerson, the moderator, tipped Hillary Clinton off before a commercial break that the next topic was Wall Street.

Small wonder she looked complacent. She mentioned several times her plan for limiting the banks during the broadcast, but was never pressed to fill in the blanks. As I say, she looked great.

In an editorial on Monday, the New York Times said that since 2001, Hillary and Bill Clinton have earned more than $125 million for speeches, “many of the most lucrative made before financial groups.”

That does not account for the millions given directly to her campaign, and to political action committees backing her. Nearly 15 years after the 2001 attacks, Mrs. Clinton was earning more than $200,000 for a 20-minute speech. Most of those took place behind closed doors. But, as the paper said, “one can guess that she and the financial executives were not still talking about 9/11.”

*   *   *

You have to hand it to Bernie Sanders. He’s destined to windup a loser but, I believe, as Damon Runyon once said, “If you want to know why a fight came out as it did, talk to the loser.”

With that in mind, let me quote what Bernie said in the debate: “I have never heard a candidate, never, who has received huge amounts of money from oil, from coal, from Wall Street, from the military-industrial complex, not one candidate say, oh, these contributions will not influence me. I’m going to be independent. Well, why do they make millions of dollars of campaign contributions? They expect to get something. Everybody knows that.”

“Predictably,” the Times said, Twitter exploded with demands to know what campaign donations from big banks had to do with New York’s recovery. “Answer: little to nothing.”

In the minds of many people Wall Street is linked with the 2008 collapse of the economy and the catastrophic loss of homes and savings.

*   *   *

President Obama was “measured and pragmatic against GOP calls for a more reflexive and uninhibited counteroffensive to the Islamic State terrorist network following the Paris atrocities,” the San Francisco Chronicle said in an editorial on Tuesday. Such ideas, promoted by Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, would “play into the hands of Islamic State recruiters.”

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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