Notes of a Reporter at Large • 01-10-13 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 10 January 2013 16:32

“Another Gift to the Banks”

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

Several years ago during the financial meltdown I happened to get into a conversation with a lawyer who worked for a bank in a town I was visiting. He excused the banks from blame in the crisis, saying it was the fault of people who lied and cheated, claiming an income and net worth they didn’t have.

I wonder what he would say today with the banks accepting responsibility in billions for foreclosure abuses including flawed paperwork and botched loan modifications.

But as Gretchen Morgenson, a financial columnist, for the New York Times, said Sunday, “If you were hoping that things might be different in 2013 – you know, that bankers would be held responsible for bad behavior or that the government might actually assist troubled homeowners – you can forget it.” A settlement announced Monday does not end foreclosure abuses but “more of the same: no accountability for financial institutions and little help for borrowers.”

In 201l regulators began moving against 14 banks including JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup, after the foreclosure process was found to be “rampant” with “misdeeds.” People who borrowed believed they had been ripped off  by the way their banks did business. Borrowers suspected that they had been swindled by bank practices: “levying excessive and improper fees, or foreclosing when a borrower was undergoing a loan modification.”

About 4.4 million borrowers were caught up in the foreclosure net during that time.

In the settlement people who had lost their homes “because of improprieties” would get a total of $3.75 billion in cash. An additional $6.25 billion “would be put toward principal reduction for homeowners in distress.”

Morgenson says the deal is “your first clue that it is another gift to the banks.” She writes, “It’s not clear which borrowers will receive what money, but divvying up $3.75 billion among millions of people doesn’t amount to much per person. If, say, half of the 4.4 million borrowers were subject to foreclosure abuses, they would each receive less than $2,000, on average. If 10 percent of the 4.4 million were harmed, each would get roughly $8,500.”

She pointed out that last year federal regulators outlined possible penalties: “if a bank had foreclosed while a borrower was making payments under a loan modification, it might have to pay $15,000 and rescind the foreclosure. And if it couldn’t be rescinded because the house had been sold, the bank could have had to pay the borrower $125,000 and any accrued equity.” But, as she says, that was last year.

Alys Cohen, an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, remarked: “We think if the reviews were done right, the payouts would have been significantly higher than they appear to be under this settlement. The regulators will have abandoned their responsibility if the banks end up getting off the hook easily and cheaply.”

In other words the banks would be paying pennies for every dollar they’ve ripped off from the working and middle classes.

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 • 01-03-13 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 03 January 2013 12:58

Remembering “Stormin’ Norman”

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

The death of Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf last week at 78 put me in mind of the first day of the Persian Gulf War. I spent it (Sunday, February 24, 1991) in a videotape room at the CBS News Broadcast Center in New York.

The general’s briefing for the press in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia was already being recorded when I took my seat. We were ten minutes and a few seconds before airtime; the large hand of the clock slicing through time as the general was addressing routine matters.

My assignment was to find a world-shaking sound byte for the top of the show. Joe and Bob, my videotape editors, and I were saying, “My God, isn’t he ever going to say something worth racking up?” Every second seemed like an eternity.

The big second hand on the wall sliced off the seconds: 8:52:30...8:53...8:54. The thought hit us that we were not going to make it for airtime at nine a.m.

We’d recognize a headline when we heard it: bells wouldn’t go off but our guts would. Then:

SCHWARTZKOPF: Ten hours into the ground offensive more than 5,500 prisoners have been captured...many hundreds north ...surrendering...Friendly casualties have been extremely light...remarkably light.”

We made the top of “Sunday Morning” with seconds to spare, a pure and joyful moment. However, the euphoria was short-lived. No sooner had I returned to the chaos of the newsroom than I was dispatched to videotape again. The mission this time was to put  together a piece that touched on major points of the Schwartzkopf briefing for  Charles Kuralt to talk about.

By now turmoil had hit videotape. The usually unflappable female supervisor said, “You’ve got six minutes before air! Can you do it? Do you know what you want?” “Want?” I was thinking. I wanted a drink of water and a moment to visit the men’s room.

There being no time to edit, we had to “hot switch” –  taking  elements of what Schwartzkopf said and relaying them, on time cues, to a second machine that would be playing on the air. It was a mine field; one false move and we were all casualties. An interminable minute was spent searching for “Stormin’ Norman’s” wondrous remark that the allies were “to go around, over, through, on top, underneath, and any other way it takes to beat them.” We wouldn’t score without that byte. We were  thinking maybe we could live without it. But we really couldn’t, and show our face upstairs in the newsroom.

All at once up comes the byte – kaboom! – and the supervisor was on the line to the director in the control room with the outcue, a piercing cry: “the mucking outcue is ‘and any other way it takes to beat them.’ That’s the mucking outcue, at a minute and four seconds!” A split second later “Stormin’ Norman” was on the air declaring, “and any other way it takes to beat them.”

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 • 12-27-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
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Thursday, 27 December 2012 13:45

Aftermath of a Massacre

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

After the school massacre in Connecticut, the president said that the enormity of the problem of gun control cannot be “an excuse for inaction.” As the New York Times notes, he’s said this before after two earlier massacres, and did nothing. But there are signs that people are willing to reconsider their attitudes.

The newspaper cited two Democratic senators with top ratings from the National Rifle Association – Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Mark Warner of Virginia – as saying the time has come to consider restrictions on selling and buying guns. California’s senator Dianne Feinstein is planning to introduce legislation that would toughen an assault weapons ban that she authored, but which expired eight years ago.

For its part, the National Rifle Association has put Washington on notice that it will fight any move by Congress to strengthen the rules on guns. Wayne LaPierre, the vice president of the N.R.A., heaped scorn on a task force called for by the president and led by vice president Joe Biden to consider plans to reduce gun violence.

In an appearance Sunday on “Meet the Press,” Pierre said, “If it’s a panel that’s just going to be made up of a bunch of people that, for the last 20 years, have been trying to destroy the Second Amendment, I’m not interested in sitting on that panel.” His organization, he said, “is not going to let people lose the Second Amendment in this country, which is supported by the overwhelming majority of the American people.”

(The Second Amendment, the focus  of much heated debate over the years, is tantalizingly brief. Ratified on Dec. 17, 1791, it says, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”)

The N.R.A.’s defiance of moves to legislate limits on guns sends a message to the White House that it will have a fight on its hands. With three million members, the N.R.A. is among the most influential lobbies in Washington, with support from many Congressional Republicans and Democrats.

Pierre says the N.R.A.’s solution to deal with protecting children was to put police and armed guards in all the schools, adding, “If it’s crazy to call for putting police and armed security in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy.” But, he insisted,  it was the one thing that would keep people safe.

Senator Charles Schumer of New York, who also appeared on “Meet the Press,” thought Pierre’s remarks would win new converts for gun control. Said Schumer: “He blames everything but guns – movies, the media, President Obama, gun-free school zones, you name it. Now, trying to prevent shootings in schools without talking about guns is like trying to prevent lung cancer without talking about cigarettes.”

In these circumstances, if I had Obama’s ear, I would urge our re-elected 44th president to heed the words of a predecessor, Woodrow Wilson, our 28th: “The President is at liberty, both in law and conscience  to be as big a man as he can,” Wilson said. “His capacity will set the limit.”

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 • 12-20-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 20 December 2012 16:42

But We Didn’t Call It Christmas

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 .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 12-13-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 13 December 2012 16:05

Lincoln, the Movie

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

At grammar school graduation my assignment was to recite Edwin Markham’s poem, “Lincoln, Man of the People.”  As I stepped toward the lectern, every word of the eulogy engraved in my heart, I stood still. The room, full of family and friends, had broken into waves of laughter. Mr. Taylor, the principal, shot up from his chair, put a hand on my shoulder, and administered a scolding before the audience fell silent and I could go on.

When I was a boy I stood  six-four in my stocking feet and came in for a lot of kidding. When I learned that Lincoln, too, was six-four he became my role model.

I’ve never lost my enthusiasm for the Great Emancipator. Maybe the highest compliment I can pay to the new movie, “Lincoln,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis, directed by Steven Spielberg, and written by Tony Kushner, is that the portrayal of our sixteenth president strikes one who has spent years reading about Lincoln and reading Lincoln as  just right. Daniel Day-Lewis’ reedy, slow manner of speaking gives Lincoln an authentic voice as a teller of parables, tall tales and bawdy jokes, and a writer lit with the wit, intelligence, knowledge and melancholy to compose some of the most glorious prose in the English language.

The war is always near, but the focus in the movie is on politics. “Lincoln” is about a president hustling for votes to get the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery passed in the House of Representatives after winning approval in the Senate, a less daunting task. The time is April 1864 with the tide of war turning in favor of the union. The opposition Democrats are not the problem. The problem is Lincoln’s fellow Republicans.

An irreconcilable abolitionist, Thaddeus Stevens, played by Tommy Lee Jones, is at the center of the drama. The Thirteenth Amendment doesn’t go far enough. He is not merely demanding a law outlawing slavery but is demanding legislation outlawing racial inequality. On the other hand conservative Republicans are less interested in ending slavery than in working out a peace with the Confederacy.

To secure ratification for a Constitutional Amendment that Lincoln believes is both right and necessary, he  has to stand up to the critics in his own party and stoop to do business for votes among a handful of lame duck Democratic congressman.

“Lincoln” is the story of a master politician who stooped to conquer and who grows ever taller in time.

No one should miss it.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 12-06-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 06 December 2012 14:41

FDR is Still Making News

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

Franklin D. Roosevelt is back in the news. The veteran actor, Bill Murray, plays him in a new film opening Friday, “Hyde Park on Hudson.” We’re told it focuses on such moments as when George VI of Great Britain visited Roosevelt on the eve of World War Two, FDR living with the crippled effects of his polio, and an affectionate friendship with a distant cousin.

Roosevelt is also back on the op/ed page, if he ever left it.

In her piece in the New York Times, Susan Dunn, a professor at Williams College,  notes that President Obama and Mitt Romney met for lunch at the White House at a time “with the country is on the brink of a ‘fiscal cliff’ and yearning for longer-term unity.”

She asks, where will it lead? “Will this president welcome the counsel and assistance of a man who for months pounded his philosophy and policies? Can the defeated candidate see past his pain and withstand predictable criticism from divisive figures in his own party to cooperate with Mr. Obama?”

Each, she says, has a role model “in the partnership that blossomed seven decades ago.”

After trouncing Wendell Willkie in the 1940 election, President Roosevelt met with his former rival at the White House. Later Roosevelt told his labor secretary, Frances Perkins, “You know, he (Willkie) is a very good fellow. He has lots of talent. I want to use him  somehow. I want to offer him an important post in government. Can you think of one?”

In 1940, as one country after another fell like dominoes to Hitler, Roosevelt won an unprecedented third term. He reached out to Republican critics Henry Stimson and Frank Knox, and made them secretaries of state and the Navy, respectively.

The method in his madness was  to forge a bipartisan foreign policy to check fascist aggression. During the campaign, as Susan Denn reminds us, Willkie accused Roosevelt of having phoned Hitler and Mussolini to urge them “to sell Czechoslovakia down the river.”

After the election Willkie shrugged off his remarks as just “campaign oratory.” A week after the election Willkie said,” We have elected Franklin Roosevelt president. He is your president. He is my president.” Roosevelt picked up Willkie’s cue. Like Stimson and Knox, Willkie was  “uncompromising” toward fascism. Isolationist Republicans were appalled when Willkie backed Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease bill, which would send war materials to the British although they couldn’t pay for them.  He traveled to Britain as Roosvelt’s personal representative. He met with Churchill, toured bombed-out sites, visited war plants, and joined Londoners in underground shelters as bombs exploded.

Professor Dunn asks, could Obama and Romney follow a Roosevelt-Willkie scenario today? Maybe Obama would consider offering Romney a cabinet office or another important job?

As it happened, the Republican “old guard,” was determined to end Willkie’s political future. He was barred from speaking at the party convention in 1944. He died in October of that year at 52, an outcast for cooperating with FDR.

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 • 11-29-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
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Thursday, 29 November 2012 15:01

Since Nov. 6

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

The round of violence between Israel and the Palestinians or a turn in the economy or the latest on jobs or new information concerning the slaying of the ambassador and three other Americans in Banghazi, or Iran’s purported moves toward making the Bomb still give us anxiety, but some of us lost sleep over the reports before November 6.

The Lady Friend worried how each event would shape the outcome of the election, given how the media played nearly every story as a test of Obama’s leadership. When Obama stumbled in the first debate the noise from the press was ear-splitting. Into the homestretch, they maintained, the election was too close to call. But a few analysts, notably Nate Silver of the New York Times, consistently said the president will be re-elected. Silver shared his research with readers. Only a few paid attention, like the Lady Friend, but she was still scared.

Since Nov. 6, political news has lost its sting. People are spent, they have heard enough and need a break, leaving citizens like the Lady Friend to wonder how much of what we call news is noise, made  noisier by pundits, warning  the sky is falling, especially in an election year.

* * *

It remains to be seen if Obama will keep his promise to shut down  the detention camp at  Guantanamo in Cuba. He made the promise his second day in office in 2009. Guantanamo is an abominable symbol of illegal Bush-era policies of detention and torture.

Sadly, the administration backed away from its plan to hold a trial in federal court in Manhattan for a prisoner who claimed to be the mastermind behind  9/11 in the face of  fierce opposition from Congressional Republicans and New York Democrats. Instead, the White House adopted “the Bush team’s extravagant claims of state secrets and executive power blocking any accountability for the detention and brutalization of hundreds of men at Guantanamo and secret prisons, and denying torture victims their day in court,” said the Times.

The editorial’s description of the practice is eerily reminiscent of the testimony we heard  at the Nuremberg trials about the way Hitler’s Nazis dealt with Jews, Gypsies, gays and other “enemies” of the state in World War Two. Say it isn’t so, Mr. President.

* * *

It also remains to be seen who will succeed Hillary Clinton when, as expected, she steps down as secretary of state. Susan Rice, the ambassador to the U.N., was favored but she has run into a buzz saw of criticism from Republicans and, perhaps a few Democrats for an early description of the attack on the consulate in Benghazi.

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 • 11-22-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 21 November 2012 14:08

Of This ’n That

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

Manna from Allstate

A couple of days ago I got a Thanksgiving card from Allstate with a note thanking me for being a loyal customer for more than 20 years. When I showed the card to the Lady Friend she rolled her eyes and said, “You  should  thank them in return.”

“Thank them?” I said. “What for?”

“For the check you got in a class action suit against them.”

I’d forgotten. There was a settlement check in the mail a few weeks ago. It was for $11 and change.

Letter of the Year

In a response to an article in the New York Times, “When the Patient is Noncompliant,” a reader wrote: “I would like for my doctor, when prescribing medication, to go a step further and explain why it has been chosen for me, what the side effects are, and whether I have any other choices. There is that frightening statement on the handout that is provided with the prescription that reads, ‘your doctor has decided that the benefits outweigh the risks.’ Where am I in this decision?”

Footnote to the Big Blow

A scornful Rupert Murdoch, the media magnate, said in a posting on Twitter three days before the election that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s embrace of the president after Hurricane Sandy shredded the Jersey shores might have tilted the election in Obama’s favor.

Post-election experts tells a different story: Obama would have won without Christie’s extravagant praise.

When Thanksgiving Was No Holiday

As a young boy, I spent Thanksgiving with my family at my uncle’s house. A businessman with a reputation for probity and wisdom, he took pleasure in conducting inquisitions of the nephews gathered ’round my aunt’s copious table.

To the glee of family members, he grilled us on our progress in studies at school. A painful hour for me and my young cousins, but uncle had the time of his life.

It’s a different story today around the Lady Friend’s copious table, and we both see to it.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

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 • 11-15-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
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Thursday, 15 November 2012 14:00

A Mixed Bag


By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times


It wasn’t close. The president won handily in electoral and popular votes. Now that that’s over we can brace ourselves for 2016.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in need of a good rest. But not so long as to keep her out of the public eye. After all there’s talk of her picking up where she left off in 2008. Or is she contemplating the Supreme Court? One thing’s certain. She’ll not be baking cookies.

And then there’s the career of Paul Ryan to consider. While some of us are relieved he’s not a heartbeat away from the presidency, he is already in the loop for 2016. It may be a crowded field, with Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush also creating a buzz.

And let’s not forget Joe Biden who may have other plans for Hillary – say a seat on the Supreme Court.

And let’s not forget Mitt. We’re all too quick to consign the loser to the dustbin of history. He was a gracious loser. But I don’t think I’d sleep easy knowing he’s in the White House.

Last but not least, there’s Barack Obama. As the New York Times reminded us last week, presidents often don’t fare well in a second term.

FDR lost face with Congress for his attempt to pack the Supreme Court in 1937, the year after he’d been re-elected in a landslide.

The Iran-Contra scandal diminished Ronald Reagan’s stature in 1986.

Who can forget the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998?

Richard Nixon, who was re-elected in a landslide in 1972, was forced out of office two years later in the Watergate imbroglio.

Despite the political fallout in second terms, there’s a bright side.

FDR persuaded an isolationist country to recognize Hitler’s conquests as a mortal threat to civilization. Nixon began the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam. Reagan cut a deal with Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union on arms control. Clinton – with Republican cooperation – delivered the first balanced budget in decades.

A mixed bag.

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 • 11-08-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 08 November 2012 17:24

A More Divided Country

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.

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 • 11-01-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 01 November 2012 15:14

Stormy Politics

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

Has Hurricane Sandy made a significant impact on an election almost everyone has been saying was too close to call? Looking like a commander in chief, President Obama pledged the country’s help and told us early Monday before the monster storm struck, “I’m not worried about the election right now. I’m worried about families – ¦the election will take care of itself next week.”

Did the crisis hurt Mitt Romney? He said in a primary debate in the long ago that FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) should be done away with, and the job given to the states or privatized. On Monday he seemed to hold his ground saying the states “are first responders and are in the best position to aid impacted individuals and communities.”

A valid point, but, as David McCumber, a reporter for Hearst newspapers, pointed out in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Billions in federal aid are hard to substitute on the statewide level.” Romney said he was bringing relief supplies on the campaign bus. A pathetic sight was the picture of it that ran on the news.

It underscored the advantage of the presidency in a natural disaster. Except, of course, in screw ups like Katrina.

I spoke to friends in Manhattan on Monday night. One had been busy bringing in furniture from his balcony and seeing about food supplies. People had been told to expect power outages for several days. He didn’t sound worried; concerned, yes, but not worried. A New Yorker for many years, he’s lived through all sorts of calamities, natural and man-made. His home is on the 10th floor of a building near Greenwich Village, plenty high enough to keep his feet dry.

Another friend and his wife live in lower Manhattan, close to the site of 9/11, and the water. They looked on the arrival of Hurricane Sandy with similar aplomb as they went about their task: filling the tub of their 14th floor apartment with water, rounding up a number of bottles of drinking water, and piling up canned goods.

This friend scarcely mentioned living with a grounded elevator. But as the Lady Friend said, for people whose life might have been snuffed out in the fallout from the World Trade center, coping with Sandy was an adventure. A septuagenarian, he makes light work of climbing all 14 stories, as I can testify as an eye-witness.

Whatever the political fallout from Sandy, it’s sadly clear the electorate is racially divided. Charles M. Blow, in his Saturday column in the New York Times, pointed to a Washington Post-ABC News poll that found the president “has a deficit of 23 percentage points, trailing Republican Mitt Romney 60 percent to 37 percent among whites.” On the other hand, nearly 80 percent of non-whites support Obama, while 91 percent of Romney’s supporters are white.

Such data give rise to speculation that Obama could win re-election if he wins in the electoral college even if he loses the popular vote. It happened in 2000.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Notes of a Reporter at Large • 10-25-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 25 October 2012 14:55


By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

In the third and last presidential debate Tuesday night on foreign policy the president was at the top of his game. He mocked his opponent. When Mitt Romney assessed Russia as our No. 1 geopolitical foe, Obama cited it as an example of backward thinking. “The 1980s, they’re now calling to ask for their foreign policy back,” the president said.

Obama made sport of Romney’s claim that the U.S. Navy is as small today as it has been any time since World War I, a line of argument, as some in the press have pointed out, based on counting every ship equally whether an old destroyer or a modern carrier.

At the end of the debate, the PBS News Hour’s Mark Shields commented that in fact, U.S. military power is unrivaled and our spending is as much or more than the next 15 nations combined.

The president was on the attack at the start, reminding me of a professor grading a student’s performance. In so many words Obama said Romney’s foreign policy doesn’t add up. The country is looking for “strong steady leadership, not wrong and reckless leadership that’s all over the map.”

But give Romney his due. “Attacking me is not an agenda,” he said. “Attacking me is not talking about how we’re going to deal with the challenges that exist in the Middle East.”

He also insisted on keeping the economy on the agenda, arguing that a weak economy at home was hobbling the country’s efforts to be a strong leader abroad.

But make no mistake about it. The night belonged to Barack Obama. The president had ground to recapture after he was all but AWOL from the first debate on Oct. 3. Some 67 million watched as an aggressive Romney dominated the 90 minutes. Obama was in fine fettle at the second debate, watched by more than 65 million. I don’t know what the count is for last night (I’m writing this on Tuesday) but it was up against two big deals: the seventh game for the National League Championship between the Giants and the Cardinals and Monday Night Football.

The Lady Friend points out that many people don’t watch but see clips of the debates on the news and hear the feedback. They don’t want the whole thing. No overdosing on politics for them.

That said, I hold both candidates and moderators to account for failing to discuss climate, guns and Wall Street over three nights of presidential argument. Shameful.

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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