Notes of a Reporter at Large • 01-26-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 January 2012 14:55

You Can Go Home Again

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

Out of the blue, I heard from two ancient pals over Labor Day. I’d last known them up in Eureka in the early 1960s when John F. Kennedy, the last of our glamour-puss presidents until maybe now, was in the White House.

I’m still a little shocked from the calls. But it was good shock, stirred memories.

Rod, who lives in Paducah, Kentucky, was noodling around the Internet, when he saw where I’d written a book with stuff about Eureka. The phone rang out in our house, shattering the holiday slumber.

Rod, now retired, was the city planner in Eureka, but too honest and too intelligent to keep the job for long. His opposition to a shopping center outside the downtown cost him. He’d argued the move would gut the heart of the city, and he was right. The painful proof has been visible to this day.

Bob, who got my number from Rod and is now nearly 90 and lives in Whittier, called the very next day. He was the city manager, the first, I believe, in Eureka’s history. But he was too honest and too intelligent, and he eventually paid the price as well.

But you got to hand it to Bob. One day the fast-talking fellow who ran the Chamber of Commerce, a stooge for the big boys, came to Bob’s office, and, in so many words, told Bob that if he wanted to keep his job he had to be more cooperative. If he didn’t go along, all the visitor had to do was pick up the phone to a few people, and the city would be looking for a new city manager.

“So what did you do?” I asked Bob.

He chuckled. “I threw him out of my office.”

This called for a big laugh since we both knew the odious fellow.

But Bob, in fact, was pushed out of city hall. Eureka’s loss was his gain. He went on to top jobs. For a time he was the treasurer of Los Angeles.

Rod, the city planner, who also fared well after Eureka, said he would never forget the characters who “abounded up there.” He remembered the publisher of the paper, my boss, “the jolly, fat orangeman,” chasing me down the street begging my forgiveness about something I’ve long since forgotten. And someone named Herb, “a former Barnum & Bailey clown, who ran Herb’s Kosher Kitchen at the back of one of those long narrow skid row Two Street bars.”  And the Two Street “`squatter lady‘ who lived in a colorful waterfront shanty and wore the most colorful clothing and a stovepipe hat with a single flower in it.” And other characters, long gone, as Two Street has vanished into respectability with book stores, boutiques, coffee shops, and a store front museum.

The two old friends said they were going to buy my book. I started to thank them, then caught myself and said, the hell with it. I’m picking up the tab. Money should not taint those memories, I added, even as the Lady Friend is shaking her head.

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 .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 01-19-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 19 January 2012 18:01

Who is Mitt Romney?

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

“A Life Hidden Behind the Adjectives,” is how the New York Times framed it in a review of a new biography, “The Real Romney,” by Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman.

I have not read the book, but in her article about it, Michiko Kakutani, an American Pulitzer-Prize-winning critic for the New York Times, points out that journalists have described Mitt Romney “as robotic (not unlike Al Gore), father-haunted (not unlike George W. Bush), disdainful of hands-on politicking (not unlike Barack Obama) and capable of complete  flip-flops on hot-button issues (not unlike Newt Gingrich).

“He has been hailed,” she adds, “for his analytic business skills as a turnaround specialist, and assailed as a job-killing vulture capitalist; lauded for his skill in getting health-care legislation passed in Massachusetts and criticized by both the left and right for subsequently trying to distance himself from that achievement.”

Is there a core to the man, or should we dismiss him as another charlatan? According to Kakutani, the authors write that in his campaign against the liberal Ted Kennedy for the U.S. senate in 1994, he dumped ideology for strategy; whatever worked was the credo.

We learn from Kakutani’s review that Romney had joined the Republican party only the year before the race against Kennedy, and had supported Democratic Congressional candidates and Paul Tsongas, a radical liberal., in the Democratic primary in 1992.

Small wonder there is unease among Republicans. A few days from an important primary in South Carolina, Mitt Romney, the recognized front-runner, under pressure to release his tax returns, acknowledged he pays a tax rate of around 15 percent. This is a great deal less than people making $50,000 or  $75,000 or $100,000 a year.

Almost all of his income, Romney explained to reporters on Tuesday, comes from investments made in the past, capital gains on mutual funds, his post-retirement share of profits and investment returns from Bain Capital, the company he once headed, and hundreds of thousands of dollars from speaking engagements ($41,592 per speech) from February 2010 to February 2011. He also earned  a small amount from a book but that money he gave away. According to the New York Times story, President Obama “paid an effective federal tax of just over 26 percent on his 2010 returns, the most recent available.”

Romney’s good fortune, which he shares with other people of great wealth, stems from  a radical shift to the right in federal tax policy in the 1990s and widened a good deal more when George W. Bush was in the White House. According to the Times, as a result of the change in federal tax policy, income on investments have been taxed at much lower levels than wages and salaries that make up the earnings for the great majority of people.

Romney might not have been so eager to acknowledge his tax rate had his rivals not pushed him hard to release his tax returns in their debate on Monday night. Romney looked rattled, like a bad actor who’d forgotten a line in his script. “I’m not opposed to doing that,” he said. “Time will tell.”

After a night to sleep on it, he told reporters in the morning that the April tax season seemed to be the “traditional” time to do so, in step with presidential contests in the past.

Gobbledegook.  It doesn’t take a political scientist to see that by April the people in South Carolina and Florida would already have voted, as his rivals have pointed out, and the Republican game is over.

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 .

Mayor Stephen Cassidy’s Year in Review 2011 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 12 January 2012 17:02

011212N5As 2012 begins, I’d like to look back at the first year of my mayorship and take note of several issues I worked on, along with major developments in our city.


One of my goals as Mayor is to make the work of our city more accessible and transparent. Today, City Council meetings are digitally recorded and can be heard live. The recordings are available on the city website.


Last June, the City Council adopted a budget that projects a small surplus without transfers from reserves, representing a substantial turnaround in the city’s fiscal well being.  Development of fiscal year 2012-13 budget has  commenced. My overriding goal, which I am confident will be achieved, is another budget that is balanced without drawing upon reserves.

Business Development

On my first day in office as Mayor, I met with Dr. Patrick Kennedy of OSIsoft, Inc., the largest private employer by payroll in San Leandro. He outlined a plan to build a high-speed fiber optic loop around the city, using conduit that the city had already installed. OSI would pay for installation costs.  A portion of the fiber would be given to the city and the remainder would be used to attract a new set of businesses to San Leandro.

My response was an enthusiastic “Yes, let’s move forward.” Staff studied the proposal and recommended that the City Council adopt it, which we did. You can learn more about the project, called Lit San Leandro, at

Another significant project that advanced in 2011 was the Village Marketplace which will be located at the former Albertson site on East 14th Street. The plans for the development include a Fresh and Easy market, a Peet’s Coffee, two restaurants and two retail shops. There will be outdoor dining, and a plaza with a fountain and public art.

Public Safety

The number of serious crimes in San Leandro increased by about 4 percent in 2011 over 2010. Crime fluctuates from year to year and 2010 was a historic low for crime in San Leandro. The number of serious crimes in 2011 was less the annual amount in 2007 through 2009.

If you are the victim, however, one crime is too many. Everyone can play a role in making San Leandro safer. We need to be the eyes and ears of the police as even during peak periods there are only about 15 police officers on patrol (more can be deployed in an emergency). The police department publishes crime prevention tips and a newsletter at

City/School Partnership

The city undertook several initiatives this year to build a more solid partnership with our schools, including:

• Providing a third police officer assigned to the school district for high school campus safety;

• Negotiating with Waste Management to provide free trash and recycling services to our public schools in its new contract with the Oro Loma Sanitary District, saving the schools over $80,000 annually; and

• Conducting a joint meeting of the full San Leandro and San Lorenzo School Boards and City Council, the first such meeting in over a decade, to discuss areas of common interest.

Disaster Preparedness

For the first time in several years, the city allocated funds for the services of an Emergency Services Coordinator and disaster preparedness programs offered by the Alameda County Fire Department (ACFD).  Starting on January 19, 2012, the ACFD will offer a Community Emergency Response Team class at the main library. The multi-week class trains people to take care of themselves and neighbors in a disaster. There is no cost for this training. Visit to register for the class.

New Facilities and Programs

In April, the San Leandro Senior Community Center opened.  Our Senior Services Program promotes healthy independent living, enhances quality of life, and builds a sense of belonging and community among older adults, caregivers and families.

With much barking and excitement, the San Leandro Dog Park immediately south of Marina Park opened in September.  The park is divided between areas for small and large dogs. We also dedicated the nearby Luster Knight Memorial, which commemorates the life of caring, giving, and community involvement by former firefighter and Park and Recreation commissioner Luster Knight.

Our library now offers eBooks and audio books for download to variety of devices. Titles automatically expire at the end of the lending period, so there are never any late fees.

In conclusion, I thank City staff, City Commissioners, and the many volunteers in our community for their commitment to improving San Leandro. I also thank my colleagues on the City Council for working together as a team in the best interests of our city. For me, it’s been a year to listen and learn, a year to plan and build, and I have renewed faith in the future of San Leandro.

Are there other steps we should be taking to better address the needs of San Leandrans? I welcome your input. Please contact me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 510-577-3355.

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 01-12-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 12 January 2012 17:03

Does Daylight Savings Time Save Energy?

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

I suppose this is as good a time as any to talk about it – three weeks in from the winter solstice (December 21), the shortest day of the year.

Researchers in Sweden, analyzing data from 1987 to 2006, have found that when daylight was saved more lives were lost, but that in the autumn, the day after falling back, fewer lives were lost.

According to the findings, heart attacks increased by 6% the day following the “spring forward” to Daylight Savings Time. Contrarily, in autumn, the days after “falling back,” Swedes had 5 percent fewer attacks.

An hypothesis drawn from the investigation is that “waking up earlier has an adverse effect on some people.” Or stating it another way, “vulnerable people might benefit from avoiding sudden changes in biologic rhythm.”

As we make our annual trek towards daylight saving time, so do many ask, does it save energy? The question has been asked since World War I when DST was  first put into practice in Germany.

The Lady Friend probably speaks for many when she maintains that the switch gets her confused, throws her off her rhythm. “I don’t like it. I never believed it saved energy.”

A study by University of California researchers at Santa Barbara in 2008 said much the same. Their research showed “surprisingly little evidence that DST actually saved energy...on electricity consumption in the U.S. since the mid-1970s.”

“Our main finding,” wrote Mathew J. Kotchen and Laura E. Grant, “is that – contrary to the policy’s intent – DST increases residential electricity demand.” Not by much – estimates of increase are about 1 percent – but DST is the culprit for the increase.

The researchers credit Benjamin Franklin, the all-American sage,  with making the discovery in 1784 that people were sleeping during sunlit hours in the early morning and burning candles for lights in the evening – a penny-wise and pound foolish lifestyle. He believed that if people adapted to starting earlier in the day in summer, when the day is longest, they could save on tallow and wax.

Franklin even playfully proposed firing cannons to wake up people at dawn and a tax on window shutters.

Were Franklin around today, it’s not likely – whatever the research on daylight saving times says – that he would change a word of the prescription he wrote for the good life in 1773 in his Poor Richard’s Almanac:

“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”  DST or No DST.

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 .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 01-05-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 05 January 2012 12:32

The Statistics Are Never the Whole Story

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.”


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



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 .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 12-29-11 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 29 December 2011 13:25

A Casualty of the Digital Age

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

In case you missed it, starting January 22, the postal service will increase by one cent its first-class postage to 45 cents.

Meantime, the day when you can put a check into the mail to pay a bill due the next day is nearly over.

In its drive to save billions  (in the last three years it lost nearly 30% of its first-class business to the Internet), the U.S. Postal Service has decided to shut down half of its 487 processing centers nationwide. The move, the New York Times reported, is expected to do away with some 28,000 jobs and “increase the distance that mail must travel between post offices and reprocessing centers.” It would be the first time in 40 years that the post office has cut back on its deliveries.

The baseline for delivering the mail is one to three days within mainland United States. Sooner or later you’ll probably have to add two or three days to the delivery time.

I take it most people would not notice the loss of postal service since they’ve long been accustomed to doing their business online.  But this is not the case with all of us.

There are people, both young and old, in good health and ailing, who have neither the desire or the means to do their business online. A large number depend on the public library. I’m sure you’ve seen them.  They’re either at the computer or waiting for their turn.

“Am I supposed to make a special trip to the library every time I need to pay a bill?” a reader asked in a letter to the New York Times. “Not a very practical solution.” And she added, “The post office is still a valuable government service.”

And there are people – like the Lady Friend and me - who depend on the letter-carrier (and may even know his or her name). I should add that no mail is more welcome than a personal letter on genuine stationery in a friend’s handwriting, dispatched with a stamp pleasing to the eye.

In its planning, the post office has called for closing up to 3,700 of the nation’s 32,000 post offices, reducing deliveries to five days week from six and cutting the work force of 653,000 workers by more than 100,000.

The contemplated changes, especially a five-day-a-week delivery, would require congressional action. With many of the lawmakers among the “1 percenters” (reportedly  about 250 and the gap in wealth between them and the people they represent growing), don’t be shocked. Whatever they do about the post office, it will not be in the public interest.

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 .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 12-22-11 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 22 December 2011 16:43

But We Didn’t Call It Christmas

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

(Every December I feel a little guilty taking the day off to recycle a story I’ve told before. But I think of it as a carol for Christmas and for auld lang syne.)

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 .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 12-15-11 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 15 December 2011 15:27

Where is President Huckabee?


By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

In September 2010 when Newt Gingrich was considering a run for the presidency, he ripped President Obama as a “Kenyan, anti-colonial thinker.” In an interview with the National Review, he said he believed Obama was operating from within a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” view of the world. It is a mindset, he added, which was “authentically dishonest” and “factually insane.”

Never mind that Obama hardly knew his Kenyan-born father, and was born in Hawaii, and raised by a white mother who was born in Kansas. As Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman pointed out, Gingrich was playing the birther card – appealing to a fringe of people who don’t think the president was born in this country.

To the best of my knowledge, the onetime House speaker, who is leading the Republican pack in Iowa, has yet to take back his false, racially-tainted rhetoric.

Debra  J. Saunders in the San Francisco Chronicle reminded us that his career was “capped with dazzling successes – followed by easily avoidable disasters stroked by Gingrich’s super size ego.”  She cites a quote from a Republican congressman in Politico. He said that when Gingrich was speaker (1995-1999), members would have to check the morning news  to see what he “had said that you have to clean up in your own district.”

Karen Tumulty, of the Washington Post, and formerly of Time, a long-time Gingrich watcher, characterized him in an interview on NPR with Terry Gross, as not structured, a loose cannon, shoots from the hip. When, as speaker, he led the move to impeach President Clinton, he was himself involved in an extra-marital affair with a female staff worker.

He was disciplined for unethical behavior in 1997 by the House of Representatives but, according to the record,  a full hearing was avoided.

When Republicans lost seats after the 1998 elections, Gingrich resigned  from the House under pressure from his Republican colleagues.

In the years since, he denounced Freddie Mac’s lending practices in the housing crisis, yet was on the agency’s payroll as an adviser, and has become a highly paid political consultant. But, as Karen Tumulty noted, “Destiny saved a seat for him on the bus” in 2012.

Polls show him surging, taking a clear lead in several early voting states, notably in Iowa ,which holds its caucuses first  on January 3. The media has been focused on Iowa to a deafening degree. So much so that one might assume that Iowa is the defining hour of the election year. So what happened in Iowa the last time? An underdog won in an upset. My question is: So where is President Huckabee today?

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 .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 12-08-11 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 08 December 2011 15:46

December 7, 1941

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

Seventy years ago on Sunday, December  7, 1941, I was attending a club meeting with a group of other young boys when an older brother burst into the room and announced, “The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor!”

We looked at each other questioningly. “Pearl Harbor?” we said. “Where’s that?”

Ever since I have asked contemporaries what they remember of that day. Where were they? How much of the news did they comprehend? I just asked a friend in my exercise class such questions the other day.

He remembered he was at the movies in his hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The feature  was “All That Money Can Buy,” a film produced in 1941 based on the Stephen Vincent Benet classic, “The Devil and Daniel Webster.”

“They stopped the film,” he said. The manager came out and announced that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and we are now at war.” My friend can’t say if they continued with the movie, or whether people got up and left.

I wondered if he’d heard President Roosevelt’s speech the next day asking Congress for a declaration of war upon Japan. He has no recollection. But he thought his mother heard the speech on the radio.

She idolized him, he said. Remembering what a Roosevelt fan she was, he sang a few words of the lyrics of a popular song of that day: “I’m mad about new books, can’t get my fill, and Franklin Roosevelt’s looks give me a thrill...”

My Republican mother, I said, voted for him once.

The day after the attack, Mr. Taylor, our school principal, summoned all classes to the auditorium to hear the president. We kids and our teachers, too, were on pins and needles until Roosevelt spoke. His commanding voice assured us of victory.

The Lady Friend, who was eight, my junior by five years, was at home with her family in New Salem, North Dakota. She remembers her father, who was in France in the First World War, predicting, “This isn’t going to be easy.”

The attack on Pearl Harbor was the fifth and last time a president actually asked Congress for a declaration of war as prescribed in Article I section 8 of the Constitution.

Earlier proclamations were declared  for the War of 1812 against the British; the Mexican-American War, 1846; the Spanish-American War, 1898; and the Declaration of War against Germany on April 6, 1917 during World War I.

Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and lesser conflicts were, for the most part,  legitimized by other acts of Congress, according to what I’ve read.

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 .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 12-01-11 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 01 December 2011 16:25

Thoughts While Shaving

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

Has Occupy Wall Street changed the conversation? Some Democrats apparently believe that “We Are the 99%” is a catchword that will resonate in 2012.

Take Charles E. Schmuer of New York, a key Democratic strategist in the senate. “The whole battleground has changed,” he said in an interview with John Harwood of the New York Times. Schumer contends there has been “a major shift in public opinion,” in part because of the consequences of the Occupy Wall Street movement, even after many of the protesters and their tents are gone from parks and other sites.

According to Schumer, as the rich get richer and the 99% fall farther behind, the movement  has handed the Democrats a gut issue even as the weak economy is taking its toll on President Obama’s standing in the polls.

But as Harwood points out, the Democrats have to prove “that they can harness the sort of political energy Republicans reaped from the Tea Party in 2010.” Schumer does not disagree.

In fact, the senator says, “This is our challenge.”

*   *   *

A friend of mine who sometimes monitors the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh says they have been telling the Occupy Wall street protesters to quit whining and get a job. I can’t confirm they actually said it but I still can believe it.

*   *   *

Newt Gingrich, we hear, is emerging as the alternative to Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination. But, as Debra J. Saunders reminded us in the San Francisco Chronicle, Gingrich may be carrying too much baggage on the long road to the election. In 1998 he was forced out as House Speaker. The year before he was reprimanded in a bipartisan vote – 395-28 – for ethics violations connected to a course he taught on American history. He professes to be a model for family values. I’ll let you fill in the blanks. There’s also the windfall that Gingrich, a Washington insider, reportedly reaped from Freddie Mac, a mortgage company he’d cited as an example of government incompetence.

*   *   *

Selwyn Raab, an old journalist pal, reminded me that there’s been talk of a candidate in the wings if delegates fail to unite behind, say, Gingrich or Romney. The name is a most familiar one, Jeb Bush, the recent governor of electoral rich, must-win Florida. But, as my newspaper uncle used to say, “Remains to be seen.”

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 .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 11-17-11 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 17 November 2011 15:55

Handicapping 2012

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

The New York Times ran a piece in its Sunday magazine on November 3 pointing out that Jon Huntsman  is the one Republican candidate who stands the best chance to beat Barack Obama a year from now.

Hunstman’s time in the limelight has been almost below the threshold of consciousness. But a key factor in his favor is that he is a moderate, not a fanatic on either the right or the left. Conventional wisdom this time around is that presidential candidates perceived as too liberal or too conservative will not fare well in next year’s election cycle.

A two-time Republican governor of Utah, Huntsman won re-election with more Democratic and independent voters than his Democratic opponent. He’s also served  in high posts in the administrations of both parties. He was Obama’s ambassador to China.

The Times article is by Nate Silver, who runs a blog called FiveThirtyEight and is writing a book about forecasting and prediction. He placed the 2012 contest on a scale pegged to Obama’s performance in general, and the president’s economic performance, and, of particular importance, “the ideological positioning of the Republican candidates and that of past opposition-party nominees ... and other indicators like Congressional voting records and surveys of presidential historians.”

The historical approach sometimes falls flat. In 1944 and 1948, Thomas Dewey, a moderate, lost both times. In 1980, the very conservative Ronald Reagan “won ... because voters could find few positives in Jimmy Carter’s record.”

But Silver says the theory holds up in the majority of cases. “When the incumbent party faced an opposition candidate with an extremism rating of 50 or higher, it won re-election in six out of eight cases. When it faced one with a rating of 50 or lower, meaning a more moderate nominee, it won just three times out of nine.”

Thus he handicaps the current crop: Huntsman 40; Mitt Romney 49; Herman Cain, 60; Gary Johnson, 63; Rick Santorum, 64; Rick Perry, 67; Newt Gingrich, 68; Michele Bachmann, 83; Ron Paul, 96.

“As you can see,” Silver says, “Romney’s score of 49 is to the left of every Republican candidate except for Huntsman. But the G.O.P. as a whole has moved to the right, so Romney is about average in the broader scope of history.” In recent polls against Romney, Obama’s lead is 1 percentage point – but he leads Herman Cain by 8, Rick Perry by 11 and Michele Bachmann by 14, according to Silver.

As for Huntsman, in last Saturday’s debate he and Representative Ron Paul were the only Republicans on the stage to denounce waterboarding as torture. Huntsman, who is in agreement with Obama on this issue, declared, “We diminish our standing in the world and the values that we project, which include liberty, democracy, human rights and open markets, when we torture. We should not torture. Waterboarding is torture.”

Huntsman spoke with a recognition of history. But Democrats need not panic. The last I looked Huntsman’s numbers in the race for his party’s nomination were still in single digits.

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 .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 11-10-11 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 10 November 2011 14:27

Andy Rooney

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

In my time at CBS I saw a lot of Andy Rooney around the network but I didn’t know him. A nod in the hallway or street, a word in the elevator was about it, except for a chance encounter and the time he took me and a reporter to dinner.

The encounter was just outside the Broadcast Center on 57th Street. I was returning from lunch with a colleague and Andy was leaving the building.

“Say, fellers,” he stopped us. “Is your show (Sunday Morning) going to repeat yesterday’s segment by the new culture editor?” He was referring to the review of a new book or movie or TV show (I don’t remember which it was) by the intellectual John Leonard, formerly a book critic at the New York Times.

“Repeat?” we asked ourselves. “What’s he talking about?” The show never recycled reviews, certainly not so soon after a broadcast; unless in extraordinary circumstances, but we knew of none in this case.

So we shook our heads in bewilderment, and said, “Why are you asking?”

“Well,” said Andy in the manner of the national curmudgeon he was, ”if you did run it again I might understand what he was talking about.”

The second time was in San Francisco when I was editing a piece for Sunday Morning at the CBS News bureau with the correspondent Terry (Terrence) Smith. A disgruntled Andy Rooney walked in. A blizzard back east grounded his New York flight. He couldn’t get out until morning. Hungry and tired, and, I suspect, a little lonely, he invited Terry and me to join him for dinner at the trendy, now long gone Washington Square Bar and Grill in North Beach.

I learned in the obits (Andy died last Friday at 92 in New York City “after developing ‘serious complications’ from an unspecified operation,” according to the New York Times), that he avoided autograph-seekers and the attention lit by fame. No doubt, but when we entered the North Beach establishment, people stood up, amazed and excited to find him in their midst, and eager to shake his hand. I’m not sure but he may have even signed an autograph or two.

Andy had come up to San Francisco from Bakersfield that night where he’d attended a convention of ranchers. I remember little more of that night other than his telling us he was paid $20,000 for the talk. In the same breath he said his great friend, Walter Cronkite, had addressed the same group for $40,000. But he wasn’t grumpy about it. Andy knew Walter’s was a bigger name than his, and rightly so.

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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