Monday, October 31, 2005

Alito A Poor, Right Wing Choice For High Court

On Sunday night, I wondered whether President Bush was entirely sincere when he placed a wreath beside Rosa Parks in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. He seemed to have a smirk on his face.

Monday morning, the President proved he was insincere, choosing a right-wing appellate court judge, Samuel A. Alito, for the Supreme Court seat being vacated by the retirement of the moderate Republican Sandra Day O'Connor.

Alito has already proved himself to be biased against abortion rights, women and civil rights, by many opinions on the Third Court of Appeals. He would add to bias on what is already an unsatisfactory high court.

President Bush had an opportunity here to restore his reputation partially from what has been a disastrous second term in office, by picking a distinguished justice from the broad, middleground of sitting judges at lower levels.

Instead, he has folded to right-wing pressure among American evangelicals and proved he is as beholden to religious fanaticism almost as much as the Mullahs in Iran.

Should there be a filibuster? Of course, there should be. By naming another Catholic, this would make five on the Supreme Court, and the political strategy is clear. The President hopes Catholic Democrats will cross the line so he can get past the 60-vote margin needed to break a filibuster

In naming Alito, Bush is taking quite a risk, however. He's looking more and more like other failed Presidents, such as Herbert Hoover and Lyndon B. Johnson, past champions at wrongheaded mistakes.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

In Honoring Rosa Parks, America Honors Its Ideals

When she refused to give up her seat to a white man on the bus in Montgomery, Ala., on Dec. 1, 1955, seamstress Rosa Parks was arrested, taken downtown and booked. Ultimately, she was fined $10 and lost her job. There were no big newspaper stories. In those days, the newspapers of Alabama scarcely covered civil rights.

That is not the case today. As Parks' body lay in state in the city known as "the Cradle of the Confederacy," thousands of persons, black and white, filed past, the U.S. Secretary of State, a black Alabamian, said she would not be Secretary of State were it not for Parks, and every major Alabama paper had the story on Page 1.

Hundreds of people waited at the Montgomery Airport for the arrival of Parks' body. On this occasion, a police escort of six motorcycles guided her into the city.

Today, Parks will be taken to Washington, where she will be the first woman to ever lie in the Capitol Rotunda. The President of the United States will be there to honor her, as will the Republican governor of Maryland, the leaders of Congress and many more thousands of ordinary people.

Why such an outpouring? Because now virtually all Americans recognize Parks as "the mother of the Civil Rights movement." They know that her refusal to give up her seat on the bus marked the beginning of the historic Montgomery bus boycott, which destroyed segregation on the buses of the Alabama capital and ultimately throughout the U.S.

But, more than that, in honoring Parks, we honor our country and ourselves, for rising above evil racism, for truly becoming the country where all are viewed as equal. It is American ideals which are represented in the story of Rosa Parks.

Maybe, it was retired Times' cartoonist Paul Conrad who showed it best, with his cartoon in the paper the other day. On the bus he drew, on the front seat, there was a plaque in gold: "Rosa Parks Sat Here."

Rosa Parks, dead at 92. But living still in the nation to which she gave so much.


Saturday, October 29, 2005

Against The Somber Background Of World Events, Libby's Indictment Is Just A Blip

While the U.S. press pays excessive attention to the indictment of Lewis Libby and the slow, tortuous work of another inept special prosecutor in Washington, terrorism continues its bloody march in the Middle East and South Asia.

It is too early to say who is behind today's explosions in New Delhi, where bombs in three markets killed 61 persons, but they occur just as the Indian and Pakistani governments are in talks to allow more cooperation between the two old enemies in providing relief to thousands of earthquake victims in Kashmir.

It is often the case that a peaceful gesture or talks looking to reconcile differences are followed by more devastating attacks, a reminder that al Queda and other barbaric organizations and governments pursue their war against civilized interests on a wide front. This is why liberal critics of the Bush Administration must be reminded, the U.S. and its allies must fight a War On Terrorism.

The Israeli withdrawal from Gaza over the summer has been followed by more attacks by extremists in Islamic Jihad supported by an Iranian government whose thuggish President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has just threatened to "wipe Israel off the map." It is impossible to believe he is kidding when Iran pursues work on atomic weapons and backs an organization that continues suicide bombings. Here, after all, is a man who probably stole the Iranian presidential election last June.

Meanwhile, Iran's ally in the Syrian government, Bashar Assad, is implicated in a U.N. report on the assassination of the Lebanese leader Rafic Hariri last February. It was Assad's brother-in-law who, we are told, arranged the crime. The U.S. Britain and France have been trying to formulate steps against Assad, who has also been allowing jihadists to cross Syria to attack U.S. forces in Iraq.

The press in Washington has been so busy following the doings of the special prosecutor that it has had little time to notice that U.S. troop strength in Iraq, as the December parliamentary elections approach, has had to be increased to 161,000, the highest level yet. Just last week, terrorists attempted a coordinated suicide bombing against two press-occupied hotels in Baghdad.

In the aftermath of new attacks by Islamic fanatics in the Caucasus, the L.A. Times runs an article on Page 1 suggesting the answer is Russian retreat.

Meanwhile, the always appeasement-oriented L.A. Times Calendar section runs a front-page sympathetic review of a film about suicide bombers in Israel. The New York Times review, I noticed, was more objective, indicating that suicide bombing is not desirable, even for the participants. But the L.A. Times movie critic, Kenneth Turan, seldom sees a lousy movie he doesn't like.

In short, there are a lot of people today who want to stick their heads in the sand and try to ignore what is going on.

I persist in thinking we can't afford to do this. I daresay I'd rather rely on Lewis Libby and New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who, with the many mistakes they may have made, are still on the side of freedom.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Cheating The Belvedere, A Suspect L.A. Times Restaurant Review

I am frankly very suspicious of a restaurant review that appeared in the Times' food section Wednesday, Oct. 26. It seems to me that the reviewer, the L.A. Times' Leslie Brenner, may have had some kind of hidden agenda, because my sister, Carolyn, and I have eaten twice at the restaurant she reviewed with a far different, and better, impression.

Reviewed was The Belvedere at The Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.

Brenner has written an insulting review, chastising the restaurant for poor service, inconsistent food, an "attitude" on the part of its staff and particularly a wine service she and her guests detested. She even writes that the gorgeous setting in which all this occurs is "stodgy" and "could use a facelift."

If The Belvedere were to sue Brenner and the Times over some of these comments, I would be happy to be a witness for the plaintiffs. My testimony in court would clash with her review.

My sister and I returned to the restaurant just last Sunday evening to celebrate my sister's birthday. We went because we had been so delighted with our first dinner there, last spring, before my long Alaska trip.

Let me state right away that we had no experience with the wine list, because neither of us ordered wine at either dinner. I did order a drink before each dinner, which was served quickly and was delicious. The waiter immediately asked Sunday whether I wanted a vodka or gin gimlet, and when I replied, "vodka," asked me what brand of vodka. It was generous in quantity and when, well through the dinner, I finished it, the waiter immediately inquired whether I would like another. All this was different than the uncaring attitudes and delays Brenner claimed had occurred when her party ordered wine.

The dining room at the Peninsula Hotel is not "stodgy," nor in need of a face lift. It is a beautiful, rather spacious room, and our own experience was that we did not find other guests so close that their talk bothered us by seeming to be noisy. I don't know where Brenner could possibly have reached these conclusions.

When I called The Belvedere to make reservations, the person who took the call asked if it were a special occasion. When I mentioned my sister's birthday, the woman immediately suggested that cake would be served at the end of the dinner, although she told me the waiters would not be singing happy birthday. It was a delicious cake, very much appreciated by my sister, and it came with complimentry candy and cookies.

I don't know what Brenner's experience was, because I wasn't there with her, but there was nothing inconsistent in quality in the four main dishes and four appetizers my sister and I ordered in our two dinners. All were exceptional.

One of the dishes I ordered, however, was the very pekin duck that Brenner ordered and claimed was "tortured into a Modernist vision." I do not know what she means by this. Suffice it to say that the waiter immediately told me the dish would not be Peking duck, so I wasn't expecting it, and I found the dish to be extremely good.

Brenner's entire review is filled with a determination on her part to take almost every shot at the restaurant and its personnel that she possibly can, and our view of it was entirely different. We felt on both occasions this is a pleasant, outstanding restaurant, well deserving of its high Zagat ratings of 26 for food, 27 for decor and 27 for service. The 2005 Zagat review concludes that The Belvedere has "innovative American cuisine served by an "attitude" free staff "with eyes in the back of their heads;" naturally, it's "pricey," but it's "impressive" when something special is in order."

I agree with Zagat. Zagat is not always right, but on this occasion, it is.

I particularly resent Brenner's many comments about the so-called "attitude" of the staff, which she says faded a bit only when she brought two Frenchmen with her on one occasion. My sister and I had no Frenchmen with us on either occasion, and we found no "haughty" attitude, such as Brenner claims she found.

When my sister and I left the restaurant, we were given little tins of granola as a small gift for coming there. I've tried the granola and it too is delicious.

Brenner did a hatchet job on The Belvedere. It doesn't deserve it, and The Times owes the restaurant and the hotel an apology.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

Harriet Miers Withdraws, Bush Administration Reeling

The end of the Harriet Miers nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court sends the Bush Administration reeling, and its future course is by no means clear.

A friend of mine in the judiciary said this morning that he first began to think Miers' chances of confirmation were diminishing when she went up to Capitol Hill to meet with Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and came away contradicting him on his understanding of something she had said.

The L.A. Times and the New York Times both were quite successful in covering this fight, ending with Maura Reynolds' story on Page 1 in the LAT this morning reporting that resistance to the nomination was growing. This story clearly pointed to Miers' impending withdrawal, as did editorials in the last week in both of the great newspapers.

What now?

I do not share the view that President Bush should next, in order to replace Sandra Day O'Connor, appoint someone who will fully satisfy the Republican rightwingers and take an emphatic stand against Roe v. Wade.

This would only lead to a long, bitter confirmation fight, a Democratic filibuster, and, I believe, a few moderate Republican defections. I frankly do not believe there is a majority in the U.S. Senate to do away with Roe v. Wade, a basically humane 1973 court decision in accord with the majority of public opinion.

After the failure of the Clement Haynsworth and Harrold Carswell nominations in the Nixon Administration, President Richard Nixon wisely appointed a man to the court, Harry Blackmun, who turned out to be a highly successful moderate. Blackmun authored Roe V. Wade. In July, the L.A. Times Book Review ran an outstanding review of a biography of Blackmun by New York Times Supreme Court correspondent Linda Greenhouse.

It would be wise of Bush to appoint another Blackmun and let the rightwingers defy him if they wanted. Otherwise, the President's political problems can only be compounded, not to mention darkening prospects for the Republicans in next year's Congressional elections.

The country is moving toward the center, and unless Bush and the Republicans move with it, they are going to take it in the ear in 2006 and 2008. Also, Bush cannot afford to appoint another crony with poor intellectual credentials to the bench. The nation is fed up with that kind of appointee. As I wrote in this blog Oct. 5, in opposing Miers as a "nonentity," "It's high time Bush not be permitted to name the second and third best to high positions."

So the conventional wisdom this morning, that Bush must now cater to the conservatives in his party who were leery of the Miers nomination is, in my view, wrong. If Bush moves in that direction, he will find himself in a cul de sac.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Add No On Proposition 76 To Special Election Recommendations

As I've mentioned before, it is important to vote in the Special Election Nov. 8, if only to defeat a number of unnecessary or downright poor ballot measures, most of which are being foisted on the electorate by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a bid to increase his power.

The L.A. Times editorial on Proposition 76, giving the governor exorbitant powers to veto state expenditures, draws attention to another of these bad ideas, and, as the Times advised, it should be defeated.

The governor, as the Times noted, already has all the powers he legitimately needs to keep California's budget within bounds. To give him more would amount to unbalancing state government and taking meaningful power away from the Legislature.

In many ways, it is becoming apparent that the governor has a dictatorial streak which must be carefully controlled, and that it's aimed in excessive ways at the public employee unions, the teachers, the police and firemen and other civil servants.

These on occasion can become overbearing, but that still does not mean they should be disarmed from the same power to influence state government as business interests have, which would also be the case with Proposition 75. The Times endorsed that, but mistakenly in my view.

If Schwarzenegger loses the Special Election, that will not prevent him from continuing to do his job and run for reelection next year, when the electorate will be at the polls in greater, more representative numbers.

So, again, my recommendations would be to vote against Propositions 74, 75, 76, 78 (the drug lobby's measure) and the unnecessary measure Y, the $4.6 billion school bond issue in the city of Los Angeles. For now, no endorsements on other ballot measures.

Monday, October 24, 2005

New York Times Public Editor Byron Calame Goes Too Far

When my daughter, Kathy, was eight years old and accompanied me, as she often did on my Olympic assignment, to the Lake Placid Winter Games in 1980, a London Times reporter asked her if she would care to write an article for them.

Kathy would, and did. It ran in the London Times under the title, "Reporters Are Too Nosy."

The same thing can be said of the second New York Times public editor, Byron Calame. He recently succeeded the first NYT public editor, Daniel Okrent, who used to write his columns with restraint and in doing so performed useful service.

Calame is not so restrained. He writes in a familiar way about the NYT publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., and the executive editor, Bill Keller, not hesitating to directly contradict them. HIs conclusions are more strident than Okrent's, and this Sunday, he came very close to saying that embattled Times reporter Judy Miller should be fired. The esact way he put it was, "It seems to me that whatever the limits put on her, the problems facing her inside and outside the newsroom will make it difficult for her to return to the paper as a reporter."

I'm afraid that Calame, not for the first time, is the tail wagging the dog. He is emerging as a kind of grand inquisitor, with more presumption than fits even such a position.

In suggesting Miller would have trouble inside the newsroom if she returned, he is acting as a bully. It is poisonous in any organization to encourage infighting within the staff, and, it seems to me, Calame is suggesting it.

There have been many negatives in the entire history of the CIA news leak scandal, including abridgement of the First Amendment, rapacious power grabs by the federal judge, Thomas Hogan, the assault against the press use of confidential sources to uncover wrongdoing in the government, and finally the feeding frenzy against a principled reporter, Judy Miller.

But all of these breaches would be compounded if great newspapers like the New York Times were to start distrusting their investigative reporters, and if editors and publishers were to start grilling their staff on every point of their stories as well as their methods of reporting, unless there is very good reason to do so.

Certainly, it is correct for reporters to be questioned. But if the questioning goes so far as to generate an atmosphere of distrust within the newsroom, it's going to be increasingly difficult for newspapers to function.

Now comes Calame with yet another indictment of Miller. I think he would have been more judicious had he let Sulzberger and Keller take care of this controversy for the moment and written later, after he had a chance to acquire more insight. I suspect there will be a second point of view about all this, that after being jailed for 85 days, Miller is being hounded for ideological reasons and that many of the attacks against her are undustified.

Unlike Okrent, Calame seems to want to be the big man at the Times. He is behaving like the special prosecutor, and if that habitually becomes his role, I think it's going to harm the Times considerably.

The L.A. Times doesn't have a public editor yet. It should be in no hurry to acquire one, or, if it decides it needs one, let's hope it hires an Okrent, not a Calame.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Liberals Without Gumption In The War On Terror Are Jumping All Over Judy Miller

Eugene McCarthy, whose campaign for the Presidency I covered back in 1968, used to say, "Reporters are like birds on a telephone pole. When one flies away, they all fly away. When one comes back, they all come back."

We're seeing that phenomenon right now in the rush by the liberal press to jump on Judy Miller.

Suddenly, this prize-winning reporter, one of the few experts in the American press on biological warfare and other weapons of mass destruction, a woman who went to jail for 85 days rather than sell out on the her principles, is labeled as some kind of a fanatic.

She works too hard, we learn from L.A. Times media correspondent Jim Rainey, today. She was used by her sources, contends Tim Rutten, the LAT's media columnist, despite the fact that she never actually wrote about what Scooter Libby told her about Valerie Plame. What do the critics really not like about her? I suspect it's actually that she had sources in the Bush Administration that most Washington reporters don't even try to get, even though, as Tim points out, you do have to be careful with those sources.

And Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, says Miller "may not" have been truthful about the full content of her discussions with Libby in talking to the NYT's Washington bureau chief. I wonder how long the bureau chief, Phil Taubman, talked to Miller about Libby once they had decided not to do a story about what he was saying.

They have a great habit at the New York Times these days of mea culpas. It cost the former distinguished executive editor, Howell Raines, his job. And now we have Keller falling all over himself to show how understanding he is once the liberals on the staff start complaining about Miller's work.

It is astonishing to me though how so many members of the press are ready to give up on the need for confidential sources in the news business, along with all the dangers that that need brings. At least in his column Saturday, Rutten acknowledged the importance of those sources. He was just too quick in my view to throw Miller over the side.

It was Harrison Salisbury, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, who once remarked that one of the lessons he had learned in working for the New York Times was that reporters had to be careful in conveying the full truth in their reports. Often, he said, in New York they just couldn't face the truth.

Just like Henry Luce at Time, Inc. in World War II. When Theodore H. White wrote that Chiang Kai-shek was corrupt and the Communists might come to power in China, Luce got rid of White. He didn't come back as one of the most honored Time, Inc. employees for years after that, well after, surprise, the Communists had come to power.

So now we have difficult times in the world. Fundamentalist adherents of an often- barbaric religion are rebelling all over the place, and just like the appeasers who thought they could buy Hitler off if only they gave him some of what he wanted, the liberal press wants to be understanding. They don't want to listen to the Judy Millers, who think the threat is a dire one that may require war.

Is Miller perfect? Hell, no. Most talented investigative reporters aren't. They make mistakes. That's why they are often subject to editing. The L.A. Times reined in investigative reporting of the L.A. Police Department when John Carroll became editor. (but in that case, I happen to know, Tim Rutten wasn't too happy. He happened to be a better editor than Carroll).

Right now, there IS a feeding frenzy against Miller, and, for all I know, she may be forced to leave the New York Times, like White was cast out from Time, Inc. After all, she works too hard.

But the war with terrorists who would destroy this country if they could is going to go on. Even the understanding press may find out one of these days that a choice must be made between fighting and giving in. I hope then that Judy Miller will still be somewhere, fighting. She may even be honored when that day comes at the NYT and LAT.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Colin Powell Aide Cites Grave Dysfunction In The Bush Administration

While everyone and sundry beats up on Judith Miller of the New York Times, the NYT is so distracted that it has to use a story from one of its subsidiaries, the International Herald Tribune, to break new ground on what is seen as grave dysfunction in the Bush Administration.

The speech by former Colin Powell aide Lewis Wilkerson certainly deserved better space than the NYT gave it Friday morning, Oct. 21, at the bottom of Page A15.

In the talk Wednesday to the New America Foundation in Washington, Wilkerson charged that a Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal has been, in fact, running the Bush Administration and said he believes President Bush has made the country more vulnerable to future crises.

The full text of the speech should be reprinted widely, because it adds to suspicions of serious shortcomings in the Administration, and it comes from a man who long had Powell's confidence, even if Powell has not endorsed these remarks.

Wilkerson said that secrecy, arrogance and internal feuding has marked the Administration.

"I would say that we have courted disaster in Iraq, in North Korea, in Iran, generally with regard to domestic crises like Katrina, Rita -- and I could go on back," Wilkerson declared. "We haven't done very well on anything like that in a long time."

The dysfunction within the Administration is so grave, he added, that "if something comes along that is truly serious, truly serious, something like a nuclear weapon going off in a major American city, or something like a major pandemic, you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that will take you back to the Declaration of Independence."

Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel and former director of the Marine Corps War College, said that in his years in government, he had never seen so much "aberration, bastardizations and perturbation" as he did in the first term of the Bush Administration.

"What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues," he said.

Bush, said Wilkerson, is "not versed in international relations and not too much interested in them either," certainly not up to the standard set by his own father, the first President Bush.

The suggestion is not the first that an atomic attack against the U.S. is not beyond the realm of possibility, and we have to be particularly concerned here in Los Angeles, because as the headquarters of the movie industry and the site of a large Jewish population, L.A. is one of the most likely targets of any such attempt, along with New York and Washington.

The L.A. Times now has a new managing editor, Doug Frantz, who is well versed in these threats. So, however, may I suggest, was Judy Miller, who so many people have been denigrating lately.

Friday, October 21, 2005

No On Propositions 74, 75, 78 and Y In The Nov. 8 Special

Adding to my recommendations against Proposition 75, the Schwarzenegger measure to disarm the public employee unions, and the drug industry's Proposition 78, I also am announcing opposition to Proposition 74, changing the teacher tenure law, and Measure Y, the $4.6 billion school bond issue prematurely put on the ballot by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Billed as a new means of getting rid of bad teachers, Proposition 74 might well, instead, increase the opportunities for backbiters to do in good teachers.

Already, there's considerable danger in the teaching profession that nonconformists who speak out about weaknesses in public education can become the recipients of unwarranted personal attacks, like whistle-blowers in industry or government.

The present tenure law affords adequate opportunity to rid school systems of inadequate teachers. Their shortcomingings usually come to light quite quickly.

The teacher's union, of course, is advertising heavily against measures proposed on the schools by Gov. Arnold Schwarzegger, who made a promise to repay $2 billion he _borrowed" from the state budget for education, and then, conveniently, forgot he made the promise.

The late Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, by contrast boosted education. Schwarzenegger doesn't seem to have it as a particularly high priority.

However, the school bonds put on the ballot by the Los Angeles Unified School District are unneeded at the moment, since earlier bonds have not yut been expended. The Los Angeles Board of Education is getting greedy, and, for now, its latest bonds ought to be rejected.

The special election is really unnecessary and even undesirable, since it seeks a distorted electorate to pass often poorly-conceived measures by a partisan governor.

Two other measures on the ballot, Propositions 79 and 80, have uncertain consequences. While I'm not opposing them at this time, I'm not supporting them either.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

L.A. Times Business Section Improving Under Russ Stanton

The Los Angeles Times Business Section, under its new editor, Russ Stanton, has a better hard news slant these days and is definitely improving.

Today's lead story, about how two Gray Davis appointees to the Public Utilities Commission are proving to be in the pocket of the telephone giants, SBC and Verizon, is a good example. As is the column by Michael Hiltzik on cities fighting "the conspiracy by telephone and cable companies to exercise control over high-speed Internet access."

The story by the usually reliable and hard nosed James Granelli on the decision by PUC members Susan P. Kennedy and Michael R. Peevey to exempt SBC and Verizon from having to pay some of the benefits of their mergers, their cost savings in California, back to the ratepayers, amounts to a public service.

When the LAT opposed the recall of Davis, it said on the editorial page that Davis had done nothing serious that was dishonest. The hell he hadn't! Davis persistently paid off his big business contributors by appointing members to state agencies that would cater to the contributors. Arnold Schwarzenegger may not be a perfectly satisfactory replacement of Davis, but he is not quite as bad a shill as Davis was either.

Among the worst two appointments Davis made were Kennedy and Peevey. Both have consistently taken positions on the PUC that have benefitted the businesses they are supposed to regulate.

Peevey, a former utility executive, is no surprise. One could smell him coming from a long way off. But Kennedy, a former aide to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, is a surprise. One might have expected her to be more honest, although she had also worked for Davis, and he probably knew very well when he appointed her to the UUC, she wouldn't be.

SBC and Verizon total merger savings in California have been $2.7 billion, according to Granelli's story this morning. State law requires such savings to be split with consumer ratepayers, but draft decisions by Kennedy and Peevey exempt them from the requirement.

Kennedy, Peevey and Davis himself would be more appropriately handled if they were presently domiciled at the state's brutal Pelican Bay prison on the cold North Coast.

But nonetheless the Times Business section is doing its duty printing such stories and playing them prominently. Stanton, a replacement of Rick Wartzman, as editor of Business deserves a lot of the credit.

SBC is a Texas-based company that purchased Pacific Bell, another California outsider that has proved to be uncaring about good service to the people of California. Verizon has also moved in on state business from outside.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Rainey, Scheer and Andres Martinez on Judy Miller, Three Peas In A Pod

The L.A. Times, always glad these days to dump on the New York Times, tried to deliver the triple whammy to the paper this week over the Judy Miller case.

Media correspondent Jim Rainey hasn't been sympathetic with Miller for some time. Bob Scheer never sides with the USA, and he knows that Miller arguably does. And Andres Martinez, the new editorial pages editor, is out to prove he can be just as ditzy as Michael Kinsley, who didn't stand up for a free press from the beginning.

But, we are told by Editor and Publisher, Miller even has her detractors in the New York Times City Room, where a sizable proportion of the staff has been in a blue funk ever since it succeeded in assassinating the career as executive editor of the noble Howell Raines.

What's going on here? To read the critics, many resent Miller because she thought for herself, didn't always follow orders and was nonetheless able to command the loyalty of the NYT publisher and the executive editor, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., and Bill Keller.

Maybe, I've just been retired too long. At least in the days I was working reporters who didn't always follow orders were regarded as independent, distinguished journalists. They were prized in city rooms. Even the L.A. Times had a few.

Also, let's face it, these critics don't like the war. So, since Miller was trying her best to establish that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, they resent her, because she had developed contacts in high places and seemed to be working to fortify George W. Bush, who the Raineys, the Scheers, the Martinezes, and much of the New York Times City Room detests.

But what all these folks have forgotten is that great constitutional cases frequently have as their protagonists ornery people, who push their rights. The best constitutional law thus sometimes is made by people who think for themselves and of course great judges and lawyers who haven't quite disappeared even now, even though they were overcome in this case. What we saw in this case, unfortunately, was bad constitutional law. The heroine was sent to jail and a free press was sacrificed.

The bottom line of the Miller-Plame-Libby-Rove affair still remains -- that confidential sources are essential, if the press is to perform public service adequately. Leaks are necessary, and if the leaks are shut off, the press won't be worth reading.

So, surprise folks, I'm going to stick with Miller, Keller and Sulzberger. I trust them to fight valiently for a free press. As long as they're around, America is going to have a fair chance to be a democracy.

And the Raineys, the Scheers, the Martinezes, the nitpickers in the NYT city room, the cowards at Time magazine, Pearlstine and Cooper, they can sell out the press and its rights all the want, but they're not going to destroy the New York Times or change my mind.

Just for the record, since someone has asked me in a comment, Jim Rainey never to my recollection edited any of my stories, and my relations with him were always quite good. Rainey has a Berkeley degree and so do I. But I have been disappointed by a few of his media articles.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Decent Wages And Benefits For Workers Essential In Free Enterprise System

Normally, I'm not an admirer of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who loses no chance to rail away at President Bush, the War on Terror and sundry other matters from a weakly-liberal point of view. As the NYT public editor has observed, he is not always accurate or truthful.

But Monday, Oct. 17, Krugman had a column which should not be ignored. He pointed out that the bankruptcy at Delphi, formerly the parts division at General Motors, could provide the impetus or an excuse for a new round in wage and benefits cutbacks at General Motors itself. GM just obtained concessions on medical care benefits from the auto worker's union, the UAW.

The lead story in the L.A. Times today, by David Streitfeld, also summarizes these trends and is thoroughly alarming.

What is happening in the airlines, in too many of the big manufacturing industries, everywhere we look these days is that American business, pleading foreign competition and rising costs, is forcing the unions to abandon hard-won labor contracts and accept what amounts to a lower standard of living.

If this continues, one of the essential foundations of the American system, namely the ability of the workers to buy the products they produce, is going to be eroded.

It was Henry Ford, who, with the $5 dollar day, began paying his workers enough for them to be able to afford to buy Model T's. This brought about a revolution in living standards and made most Americans prosperous.

Now, that is all being eroded. And at the same time, the big companies are paying their executives more and more and entering into outrageously high severance agreements, such as Mark Willes got after he allowed Times-Mirror to collapse.

Krugman wrote yesterday, "There was a time when the American economy offered lots of good jobs -- jobs that didn't make workers rich but did give them middle class incomes. The best of these good jobs were at America's great manufacturing companies, especially in the auto industry.

"But it has been a generation since most American workers could count on sharing in the nation's economic growth. America is a much richer country than it was 30 years ago, but since the early 1970s the hourly wage of the typical worker has hardly kept up with inflation...

"Now the last vestiges of the era of plentiful good jobs are rapidly disappearing. Almost everywhere you look, corporations are squeezing wages and benefits, saying that they have no choice in the face of global competition. And with the Delphi bankruptcy, the big squeeze has reached the auto industry itself."

It's a good argument. Krugman concludes, "America's working class has been eroding for a generation, and it may be about to wash away completely. Something must be done."

One thing to be done is to return the Democrats to control of Congress next year. Ineffective and confused as the party often is, Democrats will still do a better job of protecting American workers than the Republicans.

And, of course, in the special election here in California, the electorate should reject the Schwarzenegger trick, backed by the foolish editorial page of the L.A. Times, to disarm the public employee unions.

The time may come for a general strike of a day or two by working people in this country. That would send a powerful message.

Many of the current bad trends stem from evil globalization. This is having the effect of leading many working Americans back to being peasants.

Yes, we have to defend ourselves in the War on Terror. But in doing that, the Bush Administration often seems willing to throw out the baby with the bathwater, and let American workers lose the resources they have had since Henry Ford and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The New York Times Was Right To Defend Judith Miller

At the end of a monumental New York Times article, Sunday, Oct. 16, doing the paper's best to elucidate on the issues of the Judith Miller case, Bill Keller, the paper's executive editor, said he felt it was up to others, not to him, to judge for themselves on the issues raised.

There seems to be considerable feeling among liberals, which include some reporters on the NYT's own staff, who do not sympathize with Miller and do not appreciate why the paper had to defend her, at a cost of millions of dollars.

The reason for the lack of sympathy with Miller in these quarters is a feeling that she allowed herself to be a shill for the Bush Administration in reporting on the issue of exotic weapons, that she was used in justifying the war in Iraq.

I will state plainly here and now that I don't share these views. I feel it was Miller's duty to pursue the exotic weapons story as she did, seeking understanding by going to the highest sources she could find in the government. The proliferation of these weapons is one of the most important stories of our time.

If these sources were wrong about whether Saddam's Iraq had such weapons at the time of Gulf War II, or had their own agenda, that still did not mean Miller was derelict. She was doing the best she could. (And, just between you and me, I'm not ready yet to concede Saddam Hussein had no exotic weapons, even though none were later found. My own feeling is that these weapons may yet surface, and be used against our troops).

In any event, whether Miller was a good reporter or a bad reporter, once she was charged with keeping her sources confidential, I feel she was right in going to jail in defense of this principle, and that Keller, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., and other executives at the New York Times, were right in expending the paper's resources in defending her. Without the right to keep sources confidential, the nation's press will be operating with its hands tied behind its back. It simply won' be able to do the job assigned it under the First Amendment, and the struggle to preserve its right to do that job is a crucially important one in our democracy. Hence, right or wrong about the exotic weapons in this particular case, Miller had to be supported on the general principle of protecting sources.

Until Vice President Cheney's aide, Lewis Libby, gave her explicit permission to speak, through his own words to Miller and not through his lawyer, I believe Miller was right in refusing to testify to the grand jury and refusing to name Libby as a source.

Now, there are things Miller still won't talk about, such as her exchanges with her editors. And Keller too is being somewhat circumspect. I think this is to defend the paper from those who would throw it over the side in this affair, and I continue to sympathize with their positions.

There was nothing in the Times story, or what has emerged elsewhere, that justifies viewing Miller as anything but a principled person. Whether, as was reported, she indeed is a difficult personality, sometimes hard for her colleagues to deal with, has nothing to do with the more fundamental issues we are dealing with in this instance, namely freedom of the press to report on everything it can find out about government and international affairs.

My view of Keller, Sulzberger, Miller and other principals in this matter, the newspaper's attorneys, etc., is only enhanced by what we now know. That there are a few nitpickers around, on the Times staff and others, more interested in making Miller a more perfect reporter and human being than in protecting sources cannot alter my opinion.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Hypocrisy Again Rears Its Ugly Head On The L.A. Times Editorial Pages

In the nightmarish history of the L.A. Times editorial pages since Janet Clayton was replaced by the ersatz liberal, Michael Kinsley, and then Kinsley by the NYT transplant, Andres Martinez, hypocrisy has been the watchword in campaign endorsements or the lack thereof.

We see it again this morning, Sunday, Oct. 16, as the Times editorial page, after its many criticisms of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, turns around and supports the governor in his bid to disarm the public employees unions by Proposition 75 in the Nov. 8 special election.

This is reminescent of Kinsley's flipflop in the 2004 presidential election. Then, after months of severe criticism of President George W. Bush, the editorial page would not endorse the Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry.

Now, as we come down to the nitty gritty in the approaching special election, set up by Schwarzenegger in order to take advantage of a tradition of heavier conservative voting in special elections, the Times is right there beside Schwarzenegger.

What's going on here? Is it just cowardice, an unwillingness to take a consistent position? Or is the new publisher, Jefr Johnson, or his Chicago Tribune bosses, moving the paper to the right at election times?

I would tend to believe it's something of the latter. I'd be very surprised to see Martinez willingly on the Schwarzenegger-corporate side of the campaign contribution issue, ready to try to disenfranchise the public employee unions while leaving the field to rapacious big business. Martinez in the past, at least, has pretended to be respectable. Another big change for the Times is its endorsement of Proposition 76, a Schwarzenegger proposal to make it easier to fire school teachers. This contradicts years of Times support for decent public education.

In the miserable Current section that replaced the more principled Opinion in the Times, there's another important sign of weakness this morning in the article by Op-Ed Page Editor Nick Goldberg on Germany.

Goldberg is the man who once told me that the United States had taken 9-11 so seriously, because, unfortunately he said, the American people had not suffered military attack as the European countries had enough to get used to such suffering. From that moment forth, I've held the opinion that Goldberg should not be editor of the Op-Ed Page, which under his editorship frequently gives foolish extremists and America-haters lots of space.

This morning, Goldberg, while sympathizing with German suffering in World War II, nonetheless pays tribute to the Germans for their willingness to examine their own past, while, at the end of the article, he decries American unwillingness to reexamine our treatment of the Indians, our dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and our record of slavery and during the Vietnam war.

Consumed with guilt, this confused man, Goldberg, I'm afraid would want to turn the other cheek if someone were to drop the atomic bomb on us. He is thoroughly unsuitable.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Trying To Fool The Voters In The Drug Initiatives

Pre-election mailings are unreliable. All Californians know that.

But there are some sure guides as to just who is trying to have who.

It's safe to say that whenever you read that the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Manufacturers Assn., and the California Farm Bureau Federation are on one side of a ballot initiative, it is sure you ought to be on the other.

These business organizations have NEVER been on the side of the public interest. They are always trying to steer California to the hard right, to the most unscrupulous big business positions. Whatever they are opposed to, is probably pretty good and whatever they are for is almost certainly very bad.

So in the present drug initiatives, these organizations are trying to smear Proposition 79, advocated by consumer advocates as a partial answer to outrageous drug prices foisted on the public by the drug industry.

I'm not convinced Proposition 79 is the answer, for the simple reason that the drug companies might litigate it to death if it is passed.

But when I read who's on which side of this one, I'm strongly tempted to vote for it.

When things on the ballot are complicated, just seeing who is on which side can be instructive. And one thing is certain in this case: The durg lobby and its supporters are not friends of the people of this state.

So, it should go without saying that voting for the lobby's prescription, Proposition 78, is not a good idea, and voting for 79 may well be. More on this later.

Friday, October 14, 2005

George Ringwald Dies, Pulitzer Prize Winner at Riverside Press-Enterprise

Let's pause today to mark the passing of a great newspaperman, George Ringwald, who won a Pulitzer Prize for protecting the Agua Caliente Indian tribe from unscrupulous white guardians in 1968 as a reporter for the Riverside Press-Enterprise.

Ringwald, 81, died of cancer last Sunday, Oct. 9, at his home in Eureka.

I knew Ringwald well. In fact, he was responsible for giving me my first real job in journalism, as a vacation-relief reporter for him when he worked as the Press-Enterprise reporter in Palm Springs in 1955.

Ringwald was in his late 20s when he took the Palm Springs assignment, introducing honest journalism and a skeptical mind to a town that saw little of it up to that time. Not only did he protect the Indians, but he went after gambling proposals in the nearby town of Cabazon and investigated a controversial city councilman in Palm Springs, Jerry Nathanson, who claimed to be my father's fifth cousin by marriage.

In 1952, when as a 14-year-old, I became a prep reporter for the Press-Enterprise on Palm Springs High School sports, Ringwald was working seven days a week at the paper's regular correspondent in town. He started asking me to stop by the police station on Saturdays, pick up what news there was, write it up and take it to the Greyhound bus station in Palm Springs by 12:30 p.m., to send it on to Riverside.

Then, after I got my driver's license, Ringwald suggested to Al Perrin, then managing editor of the Press, to take me on as vacation relief for two weeks. Just an hour after he left town on vacation, a sensational murder was uncovered. The Palm Springs city building inspector, Dutch Graham, had been killed in his kitchen by a man who claimed he had made advances to his wife. This was my real start in journalism.

When Ringwald won his Pulitzer in 1968, the prestigeous award for meritorious public service, the staid Press-Enterprise celebrated the event with champagne in the city room. Also contributing to the newspaper's coverage of the Agua Caliente tribe controversy was the late great editorial page editor, Norman Cherness, a prominent figure in California journalism.

The prizewinning stories had to do with a group of judges and attorneys who were responsible for robbing the Agua Caliente drive by charging exorbitant fees on their estates when tribe members died.

Ringwald left the Press-Enterprise is 1969, first for a Stanford fellowship and then became the BusinessWeek bureau chief in Tokyo for 15 years. Later, he retired to Eureka.

Ringwald was an idealistic iconoclast who once proposed that Detroit stop making cars and let the American people find another, non-polluting way to get around.

He is survived by his wife, Kimiko, and two sons, one by a former marriage.

When I called down to the Press-Enterprise to see if there would be a memorial service, I was told that so much time had passed that no one in the city room had worked there while Ringwald did, so no one not retired remembered him.

I suppose not. But I remember Ringwald as a young honest reporter, ambitious to make his mark on Palm Springs and Riverside County. May he rest in peace.


Thursday, October 13, 2005

Glimmerings Of Resistance Among Muslims To Terrorism

Two articles on the New York Times Op-Ed Page this week show glimmerings of hope in the Iragi situation in that Muslims themselves in increasing numbers are showing or may soon show revulsion to the murderous conduct of the Sunni extremists.

On Tuesday, Oct. 11, Bernard Haykel, an associate professor of Islamic studies at Nerw York University and a 2005 Carnegie Scholar, writes that growing splits among jihadis "are beginning to undermine the theological and legal justifications for suicide bombings."

Haykel adds, "The simple fact is that many jihadis believe the war in Iraq is not going well. Too many Muslims are being killed. Images of that slaughter, conveyed by satellite television and the Internet throughout the Muslim world, are eroding support for the jihadi cause. There are strong indications from jihadi Web sites and online journals, confirmed by conversations I have had while doing research among Salafis, that the suicide attacks are turning many Muslims against the jihadis altogether."

The internal debate among Muslims points to "the fraying of consensus Al Queda so carefully built over the past decade" and creates opportunities for Western governments combatting it, Haykel concludes.

Then, on Wednesday, Oct. 12, the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes that Sunni violence against Shiites is creating a crisis within the Islamic world.

"Western leaders keep saying after every terrorist attack, 'This is not about Islam,'" Friedman writes. "Sorry, but this is all about Islam. It is about a war within Islam between a jihadist-fascist minority engaged in crimes against humanity in the name of Islam, and a passive Sunni silent majority. Many of those Sunnis, I'm sure, are appalled by the violence against Iraqi civilians, but are too afraid, too morally leaderless or too quietly anti-Shiite to act.

"As I said, a civilization that tolerates suicide-genocide will eventually be devoured by its extremists from within -- and quarantined by its friends from abroad."

It's worthy of note that the New York Times, despite its opposition to the Bush Administration in many phases of the war, is much more sensitive to the horrors of the present terrorist campaign than the Los Angeles Times, particularly in comparison the L.A. Times' foolish editorial writers who are too weak to take a stand.

Back in 1940, when Hitler was sweeping over the Low Countries and France, the New York Times did a short editorial one day listing all of his crimes, all of the people who were losing their lives in the war he began, and simply concluded, "Let all these things be entered in the book of his damnation." As eventually they were.

What is going on in the attacks against the Shiites and others, including our own soldiers, in Iraq, and elsewhere in the world in terrorist strikes, is a crime, a crime against which the world must rise in revulsion. Among the opponents must be decent Muslims everywhere.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Frantz, Wolinsky Appointments Good At LAT, But Circulation Drive Requires Money

The appointments by editor Dean Baquet of Doug Frantz and Leo Wolinsky as co-managing editors of the Los Angeles Times bring to these key positions two able men.

I am less enthusiastic at the naming by Baquet of John Montorio as associate editor. Montorio, as a deputy managing editor, has often adopted an unfair liberal-leftist agenda, which the Times doesn't need.

It is also somewhat peculiar that Wolinsky has been assigned the special portfolio of responsibility for attracting more readers and gaining circulation, since this is primarily the business of the publisher. It requires spending money on a circulation campaign, which the Times, under Tribune control, has been woefully short of doing. Circulation has dived 20% under Tribune control mainly because not enough effort has been made to keep it up, and what Wolinsky can do about this is limited. A secondary reason for the circulation decline has had to do with dropping outlying and national circulation intentionally, and a third, less important, has been the ideological positions of the paper, trouble with the Jewish community, etc. These, again, can best be corrected by the publisher and editor.

Forty years ago, when the Times had two managing editors, a day managing editor in Frank McCulloch and a night managing editor in Frank Haven, the two men, to put it mildly, did not get along and fairly soon Haven prevailed in the power struggle and McCulloch quit the paper.

As a correspondent based in Istanbul and assigned the critical story of nuclear proliferation, Frantz may well have been headed eventually for a Pulitzer prize. It is a selfless act on his part to come to the home office uneer these circumstances. I have no doubt he will do well. He is a long time friend of Baquet, and the editor will feel more comfortable with him immediately available in the home office and acting as a team member.

Key decisions that will affect the future of the newspaper will still eventually be made at the executive offices in Chicago, and there is little reason to feel confident about those.

But Baquet is organizing a good team, and this, perhaps, is a time to be hopeful.

The arrangement may work better than past management because Frantz is very able and Wolinsky will follow orders and work hard within his assignment.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Goofy L.A. Times Editorial Uses Word 'Jihad'

Michael Kinsley must still be lurking around at the L.A. Times editorial pages, despite his dismissal. On Monday, Oct. 10, in an editorial, "The Mayor's jihad," the Times criticized Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for what it termed his "wobbly" policy on the public schools, and concluded, "Bring on the jihad."

This represents a total misunderstanding of the word 'jihad.' A jihad is what is going on in Iraq, where a group of insurgents recently swooped down on a school, seized five Shiite teachers in front of their young students and shot them to death.

This, I must inform the goofballs who have taken over the Times editorial pages, is not what we need the mayor to do in Los Angeles.

I thought maybe Andres Martinez and his crew may have some inside meaning that eludes me, so I took the precaution of looking up the word 'jihad' in Webster's New World Dictionary.

There it is on Page 726: "jihad. 1. a war by Muslims against unbelievers or enemies of Islam, carried out as a religious duty. 2. a fanatic campaign for or against an idea, etc; crusade."

Is this what the editorial writers of the Times want? They want the devoutly Catholic Villaraigosa, inaugurated back in July at the cathedral in the presence of Cardinal Mahony, to undertake a fanatic crusade involving Los Angeles school children?

Heavan forbid! And heaven forbid such an editorial page. It is discrediting the Times in the eyes of the people of this city.

Yahoo has a headline this morning: "Iraqi insurgents kill more than 40 people," mostly on the streets of Baghdad. This is not what we need in the L.A. schools.

I suspect that when Kinsley conducted the Stalin-like purge of the editorial page staff, he got rid of the wrong people and kept the loons. The Times is paying for that now.

Monday, October 10, 2005

No On Proposition 75 In The Special Election

Unless there is some overriding good reason, special elections are not often in the public interest. For one thing, the turnout is usually abnormally low, and the result may be a distortion of the will of the electorate.

Usually, in California, more Republicans turn out for a special election than Democrats. This is one reason why Republicans have traditionally favored a special election. as Ronald Reagan did and as Arnold Schwarzenegger does.

In this blog, I've endorsed Antonio Villaraigosa for Los Angeles mayor, and one City council candidate, Bill Rosendahl. both of whom won, and in the special election called for Nov. 8 statewide, I'm prepared now to come out against Proposition 75, and may have other endorsements later.

Proposition 75 is a trick by the governor to disarm his opposition in the public employee unions, while giving greater influence to business interests which support the Republicans most of the time.

I do not always agree with the public employee unions, including the teacher and police unions. But very clearly I do not think it's a good idea in a democracy to disarm one side while empowering the other. Therefore, there is no way I would support this proposition.

The governor has tried to fool people by arguing it is democratic to require that union members give their specific consent before their dues and other contributions can be used to influence the electorate. But no one goes to the employees of big business to see whether they agree with the positions the businesses are taking. The business lobbies traditionally fight any move to require health coverage for their workers, to pass environmental legislation of any kind, and the list goes on. It is unfair to restrict the unions' from speaking out, while not putting similar restrictions on business.

SChwarzenegger often tries to cloak himself in the garb of a reformer and a man who is not beholden to the special interests. But he has been raising a lot of money on the right and he supports business most of the time. This makes him a phony, and the polls indicate many people have come to realize that.

Yet, as L.A. Times political columnist George Skelton writes this morning, there is a real danger the governor may prevail in the special election, because many opposed to him are so disgusted at the idea of even having the special that they might not vote in it.

Skelton quotes political observers who believe the outcome is liable to be close.

But quite a bit is at stake here, and it would be a shame if a minority of California voters, simply by showing up at the polls, was able to disarm, let's say, the teachers unions. This could lead to less state money for an already inadequate public education system in the primary and second schools, and it would hurt the University of California, the state universities and the community colleges.

As I say, this is a trick, and the governor must not be allowed to prevail. For now, I say , vote no on 75, and be skeptical of the others.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

In Talk at L.A. Times Pressmen Dinner, I Argue Local Ownership

It was a privilege for me to speak to the mainly retired and a few active Los Angeles Times pressmen last night (Saturday) at Taix's restaurant in Silver Lake about the need for an ownership change back to local control at the L.A. Times.

The audience seemed receptive, and there were questions about the old days, what happened to Chandler family ownership of the paper, and even the days when the Times was a Republican paper.

You can well imagine that if I could speak every night on the subject of ownership, I would, because if there is anything the Auletta and other recent articles on the Times-Tribune rift have shown is that it's not going away.

We simply cannot count on the Tribune executives, Dennis FitzSimons and Scott Smith, to be fair to the Times in the allocation of resources. Indeed, there is every prospect that the Times will not continue as a great paper under Tribune control. The assurances reportedly won by Dean Baquet, the new editor, from Tribune executives at a private meeting before John Carroll resigned, will not be lasting ones. Certainly, the great foreign staff of the paper will not be kept intact, despite the temporary agreement to do so.

I want to thank the pressman who set this dinner up. I was able to speak at length and answer questions before ducking into the bar at Taix and seeing the end of the Cal-UCLA football game at the Rose Bowl, won by UCLA, 47-40.

What was Otis Chandler doing now, and what does he think presently of how the paper is doing, was one subject of the questions, and one I could not answer any later than before the sale to the Tribune, when Otis' gallant anti-Mark Willes letter to the staff was read in the City Room by Bill Boyarsky.

But it was clear there was a lot of nostalgia for the old days among the pressmen. One outspoken complaint was that copies of the paper that would have been sent to wastage before the Tribune came on board, are now being sent out with defects.

I responded that the Chandlers were gone, and if the paper is to have a great future under its new editor, Baquet, a new, more responsive and responsible ownership would be necessary. This is not to say that the new publisher, Jeff Johnson, might not mean to do well, but after all, like John Puerner, he is beholden to the Tribune.

About 30 pressmen attended the dinner.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Auletta Article In New Yorker A Good Look At Times-Tribune Rift

The article appearing in this week's New Yorker magazine on the bitter disputes between the Los Angeles Times and its Chicago Tribune Co. owners provides possibly the most comprehensive look yet at the rift.

By the seasoned reporter Ken Auletta, the article, "Money and the Future of the Los Angeles Times," makes it abundantly clear that the publishers of the inferior Tribune are ill-qualified to be running a quality paper like the Times.

Auletta has done a good job interviewing the principals on both sides, and what emerges is that the Tribune executives have neither the desire nor the capacity to maintain the Times in its present status. If they persevere with their policies, the Times could be destroyed.

On the other hand, the new Times editor, Dean Baquet, comes across as both wise and determined. Baquet already commands such prestige that he is an important bulwark against the silly plans of diminishing the Tribune has for his paper.

If the Tribune wants to hold on to the Times, the obvious solution, as I've suggested before, is to move the company's headquarters to Los Angeles, make it the Times rather than the Tribune Co., and operate the Times as the flagship newspaper. Then, the cost-cutting could take place at the Tribune. Both the present CEO, Dennis FitzSimons, and the President of Tribune Publishing, Scott Smith, who is not even a newspaperman, could be dropped out over Des Moines or Omaha on the way West.

Barring such a course, the Tribune should sell the Times before it ruins the paper with ever more drastic cutbacks.

The Auletta article is also high on John Carroll, the Times editor who resigned during the summer in protest against the "incessant cost-cutting" by FitzSimons and Smith.

Going either unmentioned or underemphasized, however, are some of the mistakes Carroll made, such as neglecting local news, naming the ersatz liberal Michael Kinsley as the largely absentee editorial page editor of the Times, or maintaining foolishly cool relations with Los Angeles' Jewish community. (Kinsley has been unceremoniously fired since Carroll left).

Also undiscussed in any depth is the poor circulation strategy immediately adopted by the Tribune at the Times as soon as it took over in 2000, which was to drop any pretense at being a paper serving more than just Southern California.

With the trends in the newspaper business nationwide, it seems fairly obvious that for a paper like the Times to maintain its circulation, it must sell either nationally or throughout an entire region such as the West. Instead, the Tribune immediately began retreating and circulation has fallen 20% in just five years, one of the worst hits taken by any newspaper. It was over 1.1 million when the Tribune took over; the latest figures show it hovering just above 900,000.

Since Baquet has taken the reins, the Times has been doing better with local news. It has begun to pay greater attention to both the faltering Schwarzenegger Administration in the state capital and Los Angeles' tremendous rapid transit needs, to mention just two areas.

No one could read the Auletta article without gathering quickly that the relations between Chicago and Los Angeles are so fractious that it's better if the two go their separate ways. Auletta does not discuss it, but already there have been attempts by outsiders, such as entertainment mogul David Geffen, to buy the Times.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Michael Hiltzik In The L.A. Times Extolls Single-Payer Health Plan

Michael Hiltzik is an excellent columnist on the Business pages of the L.A. Times. He keeps his eye on the big picture, and his honesty, his devotion to the public interest, remain steadfast.

On Thursday, Oct. 6, Hiltzik turned again to the devilish health care issue, and came out for a single-payer plan. He acknowledged that achieving this against the corporate health lobbies is going to be terribly difficult, bt he argued it was worth working on.

As he acknowledged, the health care embroglio in this country in growing all the time. There are more and more uninsured people, more employers are abandoning health care coverage for their employees and the inadequacy of the present private, for-profit system has become very clear.

Yet, as with so many issues, the obstacles to reform seem almost insuperable. It would take, at the very least, a courageous reforming President to advance such a plan, and it would be a fight to the finish with all those company and interests who profit from the present system.

It is worth remember that even with Bill Clinton, his mind was in the right place, but he did not have the heart and simple gumption to take on the health care providers and their scurrilous advertising against the plan Clinton's wife, Hilary, was working on.

Hiltzik now writes anew on the subject, and his column yesterday was a most reasonable one, and again demonstrates how the best elements of the press are ready to fight the special interests on behalf of the people.

Of course, that is not to say it's around the corner. Neither political party is really ready to take on this issue.

The hope eventually is a powerful independent presidential candidacy, such as might be provided by John McCain. That's why Time magazine's article on how well McCain and Hilary Clinton get along was so tantalizing a few weeks ago.

Something has to get the country out of the rut on health care. Somebody has to take on these powerful corporate interests, but it doesn't seem as if it is going to happen. There are too damn few Michael Hiltziks, that's why.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

L.A. Times Doesn't Realize What We're Up Against In Iraq

Michael Kinsley is gone, but the L.A. Times editorial pages are just as unrealistic as ever on the subject of the war in Iraq.

Again, Friday, in its editorial, "War of Attrition," the Times fails to recognize the stakes in the war, and the very severe consequences should the U.S. try to withdraw troops while the present insurgency rages on.

President Bush, on the other hand, is telling nothing but the truth when he warns that a victory in Iraq for the insurgency and the Sunnis could spell the end of other moderate regimes in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon and Egypt. If these countries do not satisfy us, we need to ask ourselves how we would like it if the terrorists take them over, and what the price of oil would be in that event.

As new terrorist warnings are issued for the New York subways and of a further stepup in military action in Iraq, the bitter truth is that we have little choice but to carry on our side of the war, and to side to some extent with the Shiites and Kurds on the ground in Iraq.

War is frequently a series of disappointments. It frequently goes on too long. But so much is now dependent on a favorable course to our intervention in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, that we can't contemplate withdrawal now. The stakes are much higher than they ever were in Vietnam.

There is a natural tendency not to want to confront this, but the press and American people must be patient. Hard days may lie ahead, but worse ones will arise unless we are successful.

Times editorials of the kind that appeared today are not a help.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Bush Names Nonentity to U.S. Supreme Court

Written from San Carlos, California --

The great leaders name intellectually challenging colleagues to high posts, in and outside their administrations. So, Abraham Lincoln named rivals William H. Seward Secretary of State and Salmon P. Chase first to the Secretary of Treasury and then Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. And Charles de Gaulle named Andre Malraux and the highest ranking Fourth Republic politicians to staff his Fifth Republic administration. Winston Churchill named an all-party cabinet to fight the Nazies in World War II.

Unfortunately, George W. Bush does not compare with these giants of yesteryear.. He's named cronies, nonentities and inexperienced louts to the highest jobs.

Now, Bush has appointed Harriet Miers, only his personal lawyer, to the U.S. Supreme Court, a lady whose chief distinguishing past record includes the assurance that Bush was the most brilliant person she had ever met.

What happened to the distinguished judicial appointments of the past, the Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos? Now, their successors are to be John Roberts and Harriet Miers.

Roberts has already, unfortunately, been confirmed. But I wonder about Miers. Already, some conservatives are said be opposed..

It is a self-serving and dishonest tactic for such nominees to be unwilling in the confirmation proceedings to discuss their personal views. Miers should not be permitted to get away with that.

Unless this undistinguished woman comes across with straight answers, there ought to be an automatic no vote in the Senate. It's high time Bush not be permitted to name the second and third best to high positions.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

August Wilson, Great Playwright, Dies

Written from San Carlos, California--

The great playwright, August Wilson, died over the weekend at the age of 60. He will be missed as a tremendous representative of black history and literature, but his talent was universal. A New York Times headline today said he "revealed lives as sagas of nobility." That was no exaggeration..

I was fortunate last month to see Wilson's play, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon. It was the strongest play at Ashland this year, and played time after time to sellout crowds in The New Theatre, getting many standing ovations.

By September, word had spread that Wilson was dying of liver cancer. One afternoon, after the play, I ran into one of the actors walking outside.

"We're all doing our best, every performance," he remarked to me. "We're trying to honor the old man. We're honored to be acting in one of his plays."

"Ma Rainey" was Wilson's first prominently-produced play in a series of 10 examining life in black America and it was a masterful depiction of talent prevailing over white racism. It had an edge of anger that marked Wilson's work, yet it had a blues background that was classic and brought tears to the eyes of many in his audiences.

The New York Times obituary by Charles Isherwood said that when "Ma Rainey" debuted in 1984, it "announced the arrival of a major talent, fully arrived."

"Reviewing the play's Broadway premiere for The New York Times, Frank Rich wrote that in 'Ma Rainey,' Mr. Wilson 'sends the entire history of black America crashing down upon our heads.

"This play is a searing inside account of what white racism does to its victims," Mr. Rich continued, "and it floats on the same authentic artistry as the blues music it celebrates."

In an appreciation today by Ben Brantley in the New York Times, the critic states of Wilson, "His writing comes closer to the sweep of Shakespearian music than that of any of his contemporaries...These days only Mr. Wilson has written plays that sound like grand opera amd it is no contradiction to say that it is opera rooted in the blues."

Yale's Repertory Theatre performed many of Wilson's plays, but they also had many productions on Broadway, off-Broadway and in America's great regional theatres which recognized talent when they saw it.

Wilson won seven New York Drama Critics' Circle awards, a Tony Award for 1987's "Fences" and two Pulitzer Prizes for "Fences" and "The Piano Lesson," from 1990.

All but one of his plays were centered in Pittsburgh's black community. His second play, "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," dated there in 1911, may have been his masterpiece.

The nation was honored to have a playwright as great as August Wilson. He was one of a kind.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Tom Delay's Big Unnatural Smile

Written from Center Harbor, New Hampshire--

It's safe to say there are few in Washington sorry to see Rep. Tom Delay step down from his position as House Majority Leader to contest an indictment for illegally arranging contributions to Texas campaigns.

Delay has often acted highhandedly in Washington, and it is always revealing to see indicted politicians and others come forth with a big unnatural smile the way Delay did the other day when the indictment was announced. He looked as if he were trying anything to conceal his true feelings.

The fact is that even if Delay is totally innocent, as he claims, his case is apt to take a long time to play out, and he won't be back in his majority leadership soon, which probably suits President Bush, who has his own political troubles and may have been embarrassed by the specticle of Delay gallivanting around the world at lobbyist expense.

Texas has a law against corporate contributions to political campaigns, which strikes me as odd. In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is trying to get the electorate to adopt a law which would allow the corporations to contribute but not the labor unions of teachers, police and other government employees. This is so patently unfair I don't expect to see it passed in next month's special election.

Delay will, for now, retain his House seat while contesting the case against him, but stepping down as majority leader in accord with House ethics rules will, in fact, strip him of most of his influence for the duration of his case. My guess. let me repeat, is that most Republicans as well as Democrats in Washington are not unhappy.

Two comments under here, is a comment by one of Delay's shills. Normally, I don't comment on comments, but this comment is a rare piece of junk.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Withdrawal From Gaza Doesn't Seem To Have Helped Bring Peace

Written from Center Harbor, New Hampshire --

Just as was the case in their withdrawal from Southern Lebanon, the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza does not seem to have put the Arabs in a more peaceful mood.

It is often said that the Palestinians and Arabs never lose an opportunity to lose an opportunity. They could have had peace a long time ago. But every time the Israelis give a little, it is the same story. The irredentists in the Arab extremist organizations are only encouraged. They simply extend their attacks to new areas.

Then when the Israelis respond, we are back to square one.

Now, it's more of the same. Leaving Gaza has simply meant new rocket attacks on Israeli towns and new violence in Gaza.

Could it be the Arabs are unfit for self-rule? And unwilling to accept friendly gestures? Arafat's death was supposed to bring a different attitude, but it hasn't. Now, Hamas blows up it own procession in Gaza, with the accidental detonation of explosives. So little has changed.

It's discouraging. The Arab-Israeli conflict will go on, because the Arabs will remain aggressive, and the Israelis will remain determined to defend themselves when necessary.

This is what makes the Middle East so intractible.