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


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Congresswoman Barbara Lee • Special to the Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet, the challenges remain.

Women are more likely to live in poverty.

Nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

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

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

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

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

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

While we’ve been looking for the missing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

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

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

But Robert Morgenthau, unlike Dickens, did not grow up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consequences of Age Discrimination PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Wednesday, 23 July 2014 14:39


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

It’s usually easier to identify race and sex discrimination in the work place than age discrimination. This is the gist of a new study by Princeton researchers in measuring age discrimination on the job. In sum, a professor and co-author of the study told a  New York Times reporter, “If you want to be an aging panther, and speak your mind to your manager, that’s fine. But expect consequences.”

It isn’t just in the work place. And you don’t have to speak uppity to feel discriminated against.  Most of the time you don’t have to open your mouth. Ask the Lady Friend.

At the checkout counter, she’s asked how many bags she wants for her groceries. If she wants everything in one bag, they’ll say, “Oh, you’re so strong,” as if she were a five-year-old.”

But at 80 she knows she has to slow down. Last week she hiked for eight miles on a narrow, hilly, rocky trail in the Trinity Alps with three women friends – ten to 15 years her junior. The pace had to be slower because of her. It made her feel guilty. She used to be able to keep up, if not lead the pack, and that was not so long ago.

The results of the Princeton survey don’t surprise either of us (I’m the senior by five years). It found that young and middle-aged workers can speak their minds more freely to their employers than 75-year-olds.

“Old people,” says the Lady Friend, “have always been a joke in this country. It’s just that we’re old and there’s nothing to be done about it. Younger people would like us to be cute and pliable and not assertive. At least that’s what I get from the story about the study, and from my own experience. If you’re assertive you are going to pay the consequences if you’re an older person, and those are the ones who generally speak up on the job.”

According to the Times article, when an older man or woman is laid off, it typically took two to six months longer to find a new job than it took younger workers. And the new job is likely to pay less.

A similar story was told by many unemployed older people during the recent recession. “They sent in their resume and got called for an interview, but when they walked in, potential employers saw their white hair and that was it,” the paper said.

As the Lady Friend put it, “The employers didn’t see the experience they saw on the application.”

This column originally appeared on July 25, 2013.

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 .

Car Crimes PDF  | Print |  E-mail
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Wednesday, 16 July 2014 15:41


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

My faithful 1992 Honda Accord flunked its smog test last month. After a visit to the repair shop, it was OK to drive. The other day I found the ancient wonder missing from the parking lot after I left my cardio-rehab class in Berkeley. I emptied my head in dread, retraced my steps, looked every which way. The car was missing. Gone. Stolen in daylight.

The nurses were flabbergasted. Nothing like this had ever happened before in the more than twenty years the rehab program has been saving wounded hearts. The stealth was an outrage in a place where one had always felt safe.

A cop came to the house that night. He thought the thieves may have been after the catalytic converter, an antipollution device in the exhaust system, a lucrative prize.

The next night the phone rang at 10. The Lady Friend went to pick it up. “It must be the police. They must have found the car,” she said.  It was. They had recovered the car in San Pablo, minus at least the battery and radio, and towed it to a storage yard in Richmond. “You want to come and get it,” the officer laughed, good naturedly. “Not tonight,” said the Lady Friend.

The following day, with the help of an insurance claims agent in Sacramento, we were able to “visit” the Honda in the Richmond yard where it was temporarily consigned. The woman in charge was of a kindly temperament. She let me step inside the car to retrieve an old New York Review of Books, a couple of  Northern California maps, and a pair of  indispensable eye glasses, in 20-20 condition.

On Tuesday I learned from my local shop where the car was finally towed that the catalytic converter was gone. The thugs had broken through the door to get inside, and, perhaps, with a screwdriver, dug through the ignition lock to get the car started and fled.

You may recall around the time the Honda failed the smog test,

the Lady Friend and I bought a new used Camry (2011), reasonably priced,  to keep us on the road if and when the Honda broke down. I’ll be seeing the insurance adjuster soon.


In Monday’s San Francisco Chronicle, Mattier & Ross reported that car thefts were up 10 percent in their city. There were 5,574 last year. Nowadays, they write, thieves are “brazen” enough to be making off with cars just a few doors from where Mayor Ed Lee lives.

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 .

Keeping the Fat Lady Singing PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 10 July 2014 14:54


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

“The Death of Klinghoffer,” which had its U.S. premiere in 1991 in San Francisco, is an opera that depicts the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro by Palestinian terrorists who murdered an elderly and disabled American tourist, Leon Klinghoffer. The work is a controversial treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Joshua Kosman, the music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, took the argument further. In a piece, he asserted, the Met has produced a scandal “about an opera company’s unwillingness to back its own commitments.”

Kosman’s argument is with Peter Gelb, the Metropolitan Opera’s general manager. He blames Gelb for “caving in” to Jewish groups  “and laying down a new marker for institutional cowardice” when he cancelled the planned live HD broadcast in November of John Adams’opera about Klinghoffer.

The Met manager is letting the staged version go forward in New York. Only the broadcast which is beamed globally, “got the ax.” Kosman added, “The illogic of that distinction, silly as it is – apparently New Yorkers can handle material that’s too incendiary for other folks – pales beside the outright cravenness of Gelb’s decision...”

Anthony Tommasini, the New York Times’ critic, likes “Klinghoffer.” He describes it as “ a raw, brooding work that in its brutal honesty provides a kind of tragic  consolation.” And adds, “For me, it is Mr. Adams’s musically richest opera, with a stronger score, overall, than those for ‘Nixon in China,’ and ‘Doctor Atomic.’”

Tommasini said: “Art can offer insight and consolation, yes. It can also challenge, baffle and incense us. This ‘Klinghoffer’ production could have been an invaluable teaching moment for the Met, and its audiences. Mr. Gelb could have assembled Middle East historians, religious leaders and the ‘Klinghoffer’ creative team to have a public dialogue. Culminating in the simulcast.”

The composer, John Adams, is quoted by Tommasini as having said in an interview that it’s “very hard when something’s been stained with an accusation” like anti-Semitism. It’s “almost impossible to wash it out.”

I have not seen the opera though I hope to do so one day, and make up my own mind. However when pros like Kosman and Tommasini write as they did – “attention must be paid” – as the playwright Arthur Miller said of his main character in “Death of a Salesman.”

While all this was playing out, another Met drama is playing offstage: labor troubles may delay the next season. In a front page story on Tuesday, The Times noted the controversy has nothing to do with the Middle East or artistic freedom. It’s about pay and benefits of the workers.

The opera company wants to cut them, warning of  falling ticket sales, smaller grants and contributions from donors which have accounted for more than $300 million a year, or nearly half the house budget. Gelb, the Met manager, said he has to cut labor costs if the Met is to survive, declaring, “No cuts means no Met.”

Historically, in order to survive, art has always had to pay attention to the people who can afford to keep the Fat Lady singing.

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 .

70 Years Later PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Thursday, 26 June 2014 13:57


By Mel Lavine • Special to the Times

I came across a piece entitled “A Boy’s Execution 70 Years Later,” on the editorial page of the New York Times on Monday, June 16. It told the story of George Stinney Jr., a 14-year-old black youth who was arrested and charged with the murder of two white girls. They were found beaten to death in a ditch in rural Clarendon County, S.C.

One month later George was tried and found guilty. Less than three months after his arrest he was executed on June 16, 1944 - “the youngest person to be put to death in the 20th century. He was so small that the guards struggled to strap  him to the electric chair, and the jolt of electricity knocked the mask from his face.”

The piece, written by Jesse Wegman, of the Times editorial board, asserts that there is “strong evidence that George Stinney was in fact innocent, and that his arrest and prosecution were riddled with unconstitutional errors and misconduct.” In January, he noted, “a coalition of lawyers and civil-rights advocates made these arguments before a South Carolina court to either retry or exonerate him, 70 years after his execution.”

In 2005, six decades after Stinney was put to death, the Supreme Court banned the death penalty for minors. “But,” writes Wegman, “elements of the case still echo today. Some states are trying to short-circuit the capital appeals process so that executions can happen more quickly.”

In 1972, it looked as if the Supreme Court was ready to abolish the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment, prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. But in 1976, the Court retreated. Justice John Paul Stevens voted with the majority. But, Stevens, now 94, and retired from the Court since 2012, has had a change of heart.

In a new book,  “Six Amendments,” he argues for the abolition of the death penalty. His reason, as Cass R. Sunstein, of Harvard, cited in an essay in the New York Review of Books, is that “no legal system is likely to be able to eliminate the risk of executing innocent people. “A recent study, according to Castein, estimates that over 4 percent of all death row inmates were wrongly convicted.

Why does the U.S. still have the death penalty? There are excellent reasons for committing it to the dustbin of  history – it’s immoral, does not deter murder, and mostly affects minorities. It’s also more expensive than imprisonment for life, a subject maybe for another day.

“For me,” writes former justice John Paul Stevens, “the question that cannot be avoided is whether the execution of only ‘an insignificant minimum’ of innocent citizens is tolerable in a civilized society. Given the availability of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole as an alternative method of preventing the defendant from committing further crimes and deterring others from doing so, and the rules that prevent imposing an `eye for an eye’ form of retributive punishment, I find the answer to that question pellucidly clear. When it comes to state-mandated killings of innocent civilians, there can be no `insignificant minimum.’” .

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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