Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Naming Susan Kennedy By Schwarzenegger Puts A Real Business Shill In His Office

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he was going to be independent of the special interests when he ran for office in the Recall election, but as it has turned out, he has been as bad a business shill as Sacramento has ever had. In the Special election this month, the voters soundly rejected his real position.

So, now, according to the weak political writing which is coming to mark the L.A. Times, Schwarzenegger is contemplating "an overhaul of his administration" by appointing "a former Democratic Party activist," Susan Kennedy, as his chief of staff. (The formal announcement of the appointment was made later in the day).

The story was couched in terms that was baloney and spoiled baloney at that. Susan Kennedy represented the worst business interests in the state when she was a member of the crooked Gray Davis Administration, and on the Public Utilities Commission, to which she was appointed by Davis, she consistently did the bidding of the utility industry.

The front page story in the L.A. Times today by Robert Salladay and Peter Nicholas mentioned in passing her pro-business positions, but it failed to make clear this doesn't represent a change in Schwarzenegger's most salient policy -- his catering to business interests -- at all.

As early as her work for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Kennedy made her ideological positions clear. On the Public Utilities Commission, she just recently supported exempting SBC from having to pay consumer rebates which supposedly were mandated by law.

Salladay and Nicholas quote Kennedy as telling the Times she is "Democrat to the core," but they did have the good grace to also quote Democratic state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) as saying that despite her early years as a Democratic partisan and abortion rights activist, she is "no flaming liberal."

Neither, of course, is Perata. In fact, the Democratic leadership in the Legislature has often catered to business interests and sided against consumers, and it is no secret that the Democrats in Sacramento can often be just as under the business wing as the Republicans when it comes to supporting business interests.

Both sides in Sacramento have often sold California liberals down the tube in taking business contributions. That was one reason why the voters so solidly rejected Davis in the end, and why they rejected Schwarzenegger in the Special election.

Unfortunately, the new Los Angeles Times, under Chicago Tribune ownership, is falling in bed with the same interests. What Salladay and Nicholas characterized as an "overhaul" hardly is one.

The Times' state political columnist, George Skelton, is savvy about these things, and so was Bill Stall, the editorial writer just so foolishly laid off. But some of the weakness on the editorial pages is beginning to seep into some of the other Sacramento correspondents. I still hope that Virginia Ellis, the bureau chief, and Dan Morain are exceptions.

An appointment of Susan Kennedy as chief of staff really puts the fox in the chicken coop. She, as Perata admits, is no liberal. And not even very reputable either.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Developments In TV Advertising Conceivably Could Benefit Newspapers

Without succumbing to over-optimism, it still seems that certain developments in the television and motion picture industries could ultimately have a positive effect on newspaper advertising.

The decision on the part of the big networks to market their programs on a new basis, allowing viewers to buy separate programs for fairly nominal amounts and view them at home or while traveling at times of their own choosing could, Time magazine and other media speculated last week, have an adverse long range effect on television sales of advertising.

The two-page Time article on Pages 71 and 72 of the Nov. 28 issue, out last week, was entitled, "Wanna Buy A Slice of Sitcom -- Selling Episodes on cable, online and on iPods, the networks change the race -- and price of prime time."

While observing this could have several effects, the magazine noted that "Madison Avenue -- which, with more viewers using digital video recorders like TiVo to skip commercials, is already threatening to pull money from TV and put it into other media."

It goes without saying that if millions of viewers find a way to buy their way out of TV commercials by buying DVDs, just like theatre audiences have dipped with the availability of cheap DVDs, then it could turn out that newspaper and magazine advertising would rise. One advantage of the newspapers is that the ads are right there to be seen at all times by all readers. Barring throwing away advertising pages, most readers will see them, repeatedly.

This could be one reason why Lehman Bros. last week opined in a report to shareholders that the lackluster Tribune Co., could be selling short its prospects, underestimating future revenue, when it proceeds with the layoffs at its newspapers. Maybe, things will turn around for newspapers, and the Tribune, filled with executives who aren't all that sharp, will be caught unprepared.

One factor is that newspapers are often sold disproportionately, particularly the big national papers like the New York Times, to high-income elite readers. If these people perhaps are even more prone than others to buy their own commercial-free TV programs, won't they again become more apt to see newspaper and magazine ads than the old TV ads?

Time's article is cautious, noting that no one can foresee exactly the changes that are in store in the way advertising is viewed.

But, it concludes, "When TV shows become something you order at whim from a cable box, or take on a plane, or carry in your pocket, what is TV? What is a network? After all, the networks, with their vast mid-century distribution systems,are in essence simply conduits for delivering programming from producers to viewers. Could the nets end up making their brands irrelevant?"

In short, even if the networks, like the movie studios, are careful, they are opening things up. They may make new millions selling their DVDs. But they may inadvertently help the print media to sell more ads in the process.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Barry Bearak's Article On The Tsunami in NYT Magazine Is A Masterpiece

Written in San Carlos, California --

Barry Bearak, formerly of the L.A. Times before the Tribune Co. disaster, authors the longest article in the history of the New York Times Magazine Sunday, on the tsunami that took 90,000 lives in the Sumatran city of Banda Aceh last December, and it is a masterpiece of disaster reporting.

Bearak spent two months in the city interviewing survivors of the seismic sea waves that inundated the city about 30 minutes after the magnitude 9.5 earthquake that struck off Sumatra. More than one third of the total death toll occurred in Banda Aceh.

Bearak, who also is a visiting professor at the Columbia University School of Journalism, is able to depict the tragedy in stark terms simply by telling in detail of the experiences of less than a dozen survivors, many of whom lost children, husbands, wives and other relatives.

It was often a decision as to which way to run, a chance of rescue, the availability of rare treatment that saved lives, but others died by similar factors.

There is no hysterics in Bearak's article, covering many pages, but there is great pathos. It can be recommended unreservedly.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Unofficial Lists Of The Tribune Co. Purge At The L.A. Times

Written from San Carlos, California --

Kevin Roderick's excellent L.A. Observed blog has an unofficial list of those leaving the L.A. Times in the latest purge by the disgraceful Tribune Co. owners, determined to subvert the quality of the newspaper and its own investment in it.

Also, Roderick quotes editor Dean Baquet as telling him that further cutting back the stock tables in the Business section is being considered. The Wall Street Journal recently reported both the L.A. Times and the lousier Chicago Tribune were thinking of such a step, edging toward elimination of the stock tables.

If he wants to go along with gutting the LAT in this way, Baquet should never have agreed to become editor of the paper. It would not be too late for him to protest such steps with a loud resignation.

Roderick, like all journalists, is, of course, capable of making mistakes, and not all the names on his unofficial elimination list might be correct. For instance, I was told Friday that state political columnist George Skelton would not be leaving. I hope that is true.

But others on the unofficial list by Roderick are a disheartening catalog of distinguished names: Eric Malnic, Shav Glick, Kevin Thomas, Drex Heikes, Elaine Dutka, Frank Sotomayor, Larry Stammer, Claudia Luther and Myrna Oliver, to name some.

All of them have made greater contributions to the L.A. Times over the years than any of the Easterners and Midwesterners brought out here by the Tribune Co.

Also, they include so many of the older, better-paid reporters that it raises serious questions of age discrimination. Maybe it is not too much to hope the Tribune Co., may be challenged in an employee discrimination lawsuit.

Roderick also reports that the Student Journalissm Program started by editor John Carroll is being terminated. This reminds one of Carroll's vain promise that he was going to improve the paper.

Roderick doesn't mention the invaluable Met Pro program as being eliminated. I hope it's not, because this has brought many great young people into journalism. But Sotomayor is director of that program, and, if he leaves, it might not bode well for it.

Sotomayor's son, as a U.S. Army company commander, fought for the nation in Iraq for more than a year. The terrorists didn't kill him. But now it sounds as if the Tribune Co. is doing in his father. For shame!

I wonder, meanwhile, if it is true, as Roderick says is rumored, that the new Chicago transplant, publisher Jeffrey Johnson, has killed an editorial on recent developments at General Motors. Did Andres Martinez, the inconsistent editorial page editor, actually propose a critical commentary on disgraceful moves by that company? Is Jeff Johnson even less courageous than Martinez? Of course, we all remember how General Motors suspended advertising in the Times because it didn't like criticism of the company in the Times.

Where is the new owner the L.A. Times needs so much?

And what are the sins of a newspaper whose profit approached $200 million last year, according to Michael Hiltzik's column last week in Business, and has won so many Pulitzers lately?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Bill Stall, A Pulitzer Prize Winner, Is Laid Off By His Runner Up

Written in San Carlos, California --

Bill Stall has been with the Los Angeles Times for 30 years, and in 2004 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his brilliant editorials on California issues.

But now Stall has been laid off by Andres Martinez, the Tribune's peculiar pick as editorial page editor of the Times. Oddly, Martinez was a finalist for the prize that Stall won when Martinez was still with the New York Times. Yet he traveled to Sacramento to tell Stall that Stall's position had been eliminated under the new staff cut backs ordered by the Tribune Co.. in the latest of its dishonorable acts against the Times.

So, this carries the Tribune jealousy over the Times Pulitzers to new heights. Now the loser in the Prize competition gets rid of the winner. And there are reports that at the very time Martinez was continuing the purge of the editorial page staff begun by Michael Kinsley, he was seeking to recruit more Easterners who know nothing about California.

Given the judgment he's shown as the successor to the unmourned Kinsley, Martinez would have done the paper more good had he eliminated his own position.

But, as it is, when Martinez arrived from the New York Times, he had three Pulitzer Prize winners on the Los Angeles Times editorial page staff. Now, after a year of squalid maneuverings, he has managed to send all three packing from the editorial pages. Bill Stall, Alex Raksin and Bob Sipchen.

Also newly leaving the editorial page is the able Sergio Munoz. encouraged to take a buyout. And, we just learn, Judy Dugan, a holdover from the better respected Janet Clayton days.

All told, it is approaching percentagewise the purge undertaken by Stalin of the Central Committee of the Soviet Commuist Party in the 1930s, when over a few years, 87 of the 105 members were sent packing. Most of those were either executed or sent to the gulag, while, of course, at the Times people only suddenly lose their jobs.

But the idea is the same. Through no fault of their own, talented, valuable people lose their jobs, simply at the whim of newcomers without regard for the real good of the institution.

One of the replacements, crazy as it may seem, is the nonsensical Joel Stein.

Andres Martinez could work at the Times a long time, if the Tribune losers stay as owners, without ever approaching the quality of Bill Stall's work. Replacing Stall with Stein is like replacing Shakespeare with Harold Robbins.

And, all these layoffs, remember. are unnecessary. Michael Hiltzik reminded us earlier in the week in his column in Business that the Times showed a profit approaching $200 million last year. Even a Wall Street firm last week, Lehman Bros., described the Tribune layoffs at all its papers as bad policy.

It's all a disgrace, to treat Pulitzer Prize winners this way, and worthy of the outrage it has generated among the Times staff, and contempt it was inspired elsewhere..

Friday, November 25, 2005

New York Times Does Outstanding Job Sorting Out Drug Choices For Seniors

When something really complicated comes along, like the new quasi-governmental
plan for seniors drug benefits, you can usually count on the New York Times to do absolutely the best job of anyone sorting it out. It shows why we still need newspapers, and why the Internet can be used, but only intelligently if we read the right newspapers first.

That was the case Thanksgiving Day in the NYT Business Day section, with two very comprehensive articles on the decision now facing millions of seniors as to which drug plan to select and how to go about selecting it. Especially for those of us who take a lot of medicines, the savings can be very sizable.

Polls have indicated widespread confusion about this, since the drug lobby got its tongs into the process and set up a system in the legislation that keeps the inglorious private enterprise system in the middle of the stew. Wait until the plan actually starts in operation Jan. 1, and then we are apt to find out just how bad it is.

But, as the articles by Milt Freudenheim and especially Gina Kolata in the NYT demonstrate, all is not lost yet. There does apparently seem to be a way, particularly, of researching the matter through the government Web site and devining what is best for you, especially if you qualify for Medicare and do not have a prescription plan already.

Kolata's story on navigating the Web site is a masterpiece of its kind. The government would do the public a service, if it simply distributed the New York Times articles to everyone.

There have been some modest Los Angeles Times improvements of the long inferior Business section, but nothing comparable to what the New York Times puts out every day on issues affecting business and the consumer.

The main thing to remember with the drug plan is that if you are past 65 and do not have a current prescription plan, there is a way of saving quite a bit of money, as long as you choose the best plan. And the Medicare Web site is set up to facilitate this if you take the time -- and the New York Times suggests that may take two days -- to really explore it.

Since the plans can be adjusted between now and Jan. 1, it is also wise to check and recheck to see whether you have chosen the best plan for you. You can change your choice repeatedly without penalty before Jan. 1, if the adjustments indicate more advantageous pricing for you. Variables includes the copayments, the formularies that show what drugs are included, and the bottom line, all of which can vary substantially.

So I'm going to take the time to do this. At a Dartmouth College reunion seminar last June, physicians in my class indicated that taking your prescription medicines is one of the most important things you can do to lead a long, happy, healthful life.

Yet the system of incessant drug advertisements does not help us to find the best drug regimen. Far from it, it can set us easily on the wrong path. You've got to find reliable doctors and then follow their advice, even before you select a reimbursement plan.

The L.A. Times, as far as a fairly intensive reading of the paper indicates, has not even approached the N.Y. Times in coverage of the drug plan choices. It should try doing so, and now is the time.

In the meantime, read the New York Times. Unfortunately for Californians in the age of Tribune ownership of the L.A. Times, this is more and more the soundest thing to do.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Greedy Corporate CEOs Like FitzSimmons and Moreno Besmirch The Holidays

In his excellent column this morning in the L.A. Times Business section, Michael Hiltzik estimates that the Times profit last year, based on operating revenues of more than $1.1 billion, "could have approached $200 million."

And yet the greedy CEO of the Tribune Co., Dennis FitzSimmons, ruined the holiday season for numerous Times employees by ordering layoffs to increase these already bloated profits.

May a bitter liquid flow through FitzSimmons' turkey today. May his cranberry sauce turn sour, may his pumpkin pie be rancid.

But FitzSimmons is by no means the only plutocrat to be afflicting Southern California in this holiday season.

The owner of the Anaheim Angels (I use their proper name), Arte Moreno, has been threatening to take the team and move it elsewhere if the lawsuit Anaheim filed to enforce its contract on the Angels' name goes on.

"If this gets into appeals court, somewhere along the line you have to think about whether you're gone,' this squalid little jerk told Bill Shaikin, a sportswriter for the Times. The story about his remarks ran Tuesday, Nov. 22, the anniversary of the day another backstabber, Lee Harvey Oswald, assassinated President John F. Kennedy.

The fathers of the city of Anaheim probably should say good riddance. I always thought losing professional football was one of the best things that ever happened to Los Angeles, and, rather than let this loser continue to rant and rave and exploit Anaheim's hospitality, why not just tell him to pack up and be gone by tomorrow.

Fallujah, Iraq, would be a good next home for Moreno's team. He is more sensitive, of course, than the terrorist, al-Zarqawi, but his team might do well in the city.

It is testimony to the failings of our lethargic justice system that Anaheim's suit was not adjudicated long ago, with Morino ordered to repay the $20 million Anaheim paid for stadium renovactions and to forfeit all his interest in the team as punitive damages.

Why does this area need professional teams at all when we have both USC and UCLA?

It is high time in this country that we make these corporate honchos behave or pay the price. Now, stripping them of their possessions would make for a glorious Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Ben A. Franklin of NYT Dies, And Gets A Small Obituary

A reporter I knew long ago who had the temerity to buck A.M. Rosenthal when he was the imperious executive editor of the New York Times has died and received a curt eight-paragraph obituary at the bottom of the obituary page in the NYT.

Ben A. Franklin served the New York Times for 30 years in its Washington bureau and most notably as roving correspondent in the mid-Atlantic states of primarily Maryland and Virginia.

Franklin died last Saturday at his home in Garrett Park, Md., of lung cancer. He was 78.

I knew him mostly for his diligent coverage of the civil rights battles in the Eastern Shore Maryland town of Cambridge in 1963, when I was working for Life magazine. The Maryland National Guard was sent into Cambridge to keep order after the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee protested, sometimes violently, against segregation there.

Rosenthal as executive editor definitely had his favorites and less favorites. After he learned that Franklin was a critic, he cut down on the quality of Franklin's assignments and made it clear that Franklin would never escape the narrow confines of his beat.

The New York Times was always a demanding place to work, but I knew many NYT correspondents who had fine careers there, including Gladwin Hill here in Los Angeles, Laurence Davies and Wallace Turner in San Francisco, E.W. Kenworthy on the Eugene McCarthy presidential campaign, James Wooten on the Jimmy Carter campaign and Howell Raines in a variety of posts.

The L.A. Times under Otis Chandler was probably as good or better place to work, especially for local reporters, who long had three advantageous pages to appear on, Page 1, Page 3 and Page 1 of Metro. This, of course, changed when Page 3 became a foreign news page and the California Section limited local space on Page 1 of Part 2.

At the New York Times, it was far more difficult to command great space unless you were sitting on one of the great stories of the day.

Nevertheless, Franklin persevered and seldom complained to outsiders. I remember him as a skilled and conscientious colleague.

Also dying this week was Hugh Sidey, Time magazine's Presidential correspondent, who covered the White House for many years. His civil attitude toward the Presidents he wrote about was marked, and Sidey was highly respected in the days before reporters were expected to be sons of bitches around every President they encountered. I knew him only a little.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

General Motors And The Tribune Co., Both Slipping

The lead story in the L.A. Times this morning reports that General Motors is going to close 12 plants and reduce the number of its workers by 30,000.

Meanwhile, the New York Times yesterday reported that Google is going to compete with the newspapers, it predicts quite effectively, for classified ads.

The NYT remarks, "Google Base could take a bigger toll on local and regional newspapers. So far, those papers have managed to maintain their connection between their readers and the goods and services in the same market. By allowing its audience to customize content and post it for free (all the while selling ads against the audience that information aggregates), Google could all but wipe out the middle man, which could be your friendly neighborhood daily paper.

At the same time, Toyota is moving up and General MOtors decidedly down.

The bottom line is that both GM and the Tribune Co., for now owner of the LAT, are in crisis. The executives of both companies have failed to keep their eye on the future. They've failed to compete successfully, although, if they were smart, they could compete. They're in many respects doing in their skilled work forces, through buyouts and layoffs, forgetting their obligations to them as part of work communities.

The answer for GM is to start producing the kind of vehicles Americans want. And one answer for the newspapers is to start competing on the Web, which most have scarcely done. A really visionary L.A. Times would widen distribution, not perhaps to the New York Times level of a full national distribution, but certainly in California and the West. Money spent on distribution today would result in circulation and advertising tomorrow.

I got a comment on yesterday's blog, noting that the L.A. Times had only a 12-page First Section yesterday.

Someone identifing him or herself as a "former UPI Reporter/Editor," wrote, "It is sad what is happening to the L.A. Times. It's even worse that such an important city as Los Angeles has two poor newspapers (Times/Daily News). Only 12 pages today, is why I've decided to cancel my subscript to the newspaper, and go with the NY Times. To use the Chicago Tribune as a standard for what to achieve is also sad. Who will step up and buy the L.A. Times and save us from the Tribune Co?"

Well, to reply, my new subscription bill finally arrived from the L.A. Times yesterday and through April 28, the charge is only $44.80. The New York Times, good as it is, is going to cost me hundreds of dollars during the same period.

If the L.A. Times keeps its foreign staff, revitalizes its editorial pages, and somehow contrives to get out from under the Chicago losers, not all is lost. I challenge any evaluation that the LAT is a "poor" paper. Not yet. This blog is being written with the aim of preventing it from becoming one.

I feel fairly confident General Motors will figure out how to bring itself back into America's good graces, just as Chrysler has done. That's why I continue to invest in GM.

But, as LAT auto writer Dan Neil once wrote, it may take new leadership at GM.

There's no hope for the Tribune. They should sell out -- now. Californians should own the L.A. Times.

Monday, November 21, 2005

L.A. Times Has Only 12 Pages in Section I This Morning

Determined to show how it is sinking under Tribune ownership, the Los Angeles Times has only 12 pages in its first section this morning.

And here we are in Thanksgiving week, the beginning of the Christmas shopping season, when it used to be under the Chandler family that the Times had several extra sections, known as goony bird sections, at this time of the year.

The New York Times Section I this morning is 26 pages.

I can just see the messages flowing from Dennis FitzSimmons' office in Chicago to Dean Baquet, editor of the Times: Prove to me again what a tiny paper you can put out. Here in Chicago, we like daily evidence of Los Angeles inferiority.

Some publications I read have their biggest issues of the year at this time. For instance, Time magazine runs 162 pages this week.

I was hoping, with the departure of Bob Sipchen from the Current section, the second (after Outdoors) he has mis-designed, to see immediate improvements in Current, which ought not to be difficult.

But Current this Sunday still had comics on Page 1, and little of interest. The Op-Ed Page too, under the new lineup of writers, has been very dull. Somehow, there has to be an infusion of some talent in the editorial pages, but so far we don't see it.

The New York Times' Week In Review section, distinguishes itself every Sunday. A highlight this week was Frank Rich's column, "One War Lost, Another to Go," in which he did have the good judgment to point out that if the U.S. bugs out of Iraq, as some Democrats want, it will still be at war in Afghanistan and with Osama bin Laden, who won't let us go that easily. Rich, though liberal, knows this is not parallel to Vietnam.

This is something the L.A. Times might search for -- a columnist who can see both sides of an issue and render things in suitable complexity.

The New York Times, however, does have its own one-dimensional Bob Scheer. He is columnist Paul Krugman.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Lack Of Internal Discipline Helped Lead To L.A. Times Layoffs

I noticed that as of the beginning of the latest buyouts and layoffs at the L.A. Times, the newspaper had a total announced editorial staff of 1,032.

But this staff, in all the buyouts and layoffs that followed Otis Chandler's giving up as publisher, never amounted to much over 1,100, if memory serves me.

What has happened repeatedly is that the Times staff would be brought down to about 1,000, but it would then be allowed to creep back up toward 1,100 through new hires.

In other words, the executives of the paper no sooner pared the staff than they started hiring new people. The buyouts cost the paper quite a bit, but they were used more as a means of ridding the paper of the unwanted, and in some cases even wanted, staff members and then as soon as it was done, new hirees were brought on. So under this cycle, nothing was gained. There was no discipline invoked to let the paper live within its means.

The old days, when the Times had the reputation of being a lifelong guarantee of employment for the staff, almost no matter what, were allowed to lapse and the Chandler family policy of buying labor peace and employee happiness through the generousity of their employment terms and especially the terrific benefits, was done away with.

This started happening when David Laventhol become publisher, and it gradually became the way of doing business, but it was not until the Tribune Co. bought the paper that poor treatment of employees really intensified. As soon as the Tribune took over, it embarked on a policy of cutting costs and, they intended, building profits.

But neither John Carroll nor Dean Baquet really accepted this policy. They still had ambitions for the paper that were not shared in Chicago, so no sooner was the staff pared, but new people were brought on, and often at generous salaries.

Carroll in particularly did not, until it was too late, seem to appreciate the strong desire of the Chicago Tribune executives to treat the Times as a poor stepson of the Tribune. Even as late as last spring, Carroll told the late David Shaw that he felt confident he would be able to keep Chicago at bay. Nothing had happened so far to induce him to leave, he said.

When he found he couldn't effectively resist Chicago, that's when he quit, and now Baquet has found he has very little leverage at all, despite the negotiations he entered into with Chicago.

I was reminded last week by Frank Cruz that almost as soon as they took over, the Tribune executives told the staff they would let Times circulation fall to what they considered a more natural level, although I'm sure no one at the time foresaw the 30% decline that has taken place.

Now, things are in a downward spiral, and longtime staffers are finding themselves, in quite a few cases, laid off. Even so, the paper is still out there hiring people like Joel Stein and Andres Martinez, who cannot match the talent of past days.

It's too bad. When will it end? Not, in my view, until, there is a new, more ambitious owner who values California above Illinois.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

403-3 Against An Iraq Pullout

The Arabs will know what last night's vote in the House of Representatives means: It means the U.S. is not going to cut and run in Iraq.

Only three Democrats voted for the resolution when it was couched in direct terms as an immediate pullout, and one of the three was the pro-Arab congresswoman from Georgia, Cynthia McKinney. Six other Democrats voted "present," effectively abstaining. Not a single Californian voted no or abstained.

It's similar to the Civil War, when Lincoln used to call the Democrats' bluff now and then. The Democrats kept saying to negotiate with the South. Had they had their way, the Union would not have been saved and slavery not ended. Fortunately, they were never able to come close to prevailing in Congress.

The bottom line now is this: Were the U.S. and its allies to leave Iraq, it would fall under the control of al Queda and, in time, every Mideastern country would be threatened with a Caliphate and the oil would fall under the control of that Caliphate.

So difficult as the war is, and it is difficult, we can't afford to lose, and even most Democrats know that. There are a few cut and runners in the Senate, like Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, but they can only make a lot of noise. They are the old Democratic party appeasers from the Civil War days.

While the U.S. press was paying a lot of attention to Rep. John P. Murtha this week, something important was happening in the Mideast. That was King Abdullah's emphatic stand against Al-Zarqawi, and Zarqawi's threat to cut the King's head off. The king was one of the first of the Arabs to really take an all out position against the blood-soaked barbarians. If enough others do, al-Queda is certainly going to be beaten.

It would, it seems to me, be helpful if President Bush did shake up his war command, relieving the tired Donald Rumsfeld and bringing in John McCain to be Defense Secretary.

But cut and run? When it came right down to it in the House, only three representatives wanted to do that. Now, the wisest thing to do would be to shut up and let the war be fought. The press should cut the administration a little slack, perhaps.

Friday, November 18, 2005

L.A. Times Doing A Poor, Confusing Job On Circulation

As L.A. Times circulation has continued its sorry drop -- now about 30% -- since the losers from the Chicago Tribune bought the paper, service on the circulation phone lines has deteriorated.

Perhaps, it's because the customer service lines were outsourced to Wisconsin. When you call the paper, you get a variety of different price offers, but the bottom line is that you can buy the paper these days for $2 a week, that is if they bill you.

But sometimes, they are very dilatory about billing you.

Knowing that my subscription, $104 for the past year, was running out Nov. 4, I called the paper several weeks ago, and was told that I could have the $2 rate extended six months. I said, fine, could I stop in at the offices downtown and pay the bill? No, the customer service rep said, we will bill you.

But a month has gone by and I haven't been billed yet. The paper is still coming, however.

Pardon me, if I have a sneaking suspicion that one reason there are more layoffs coming at the Times is that they aren't collecting for subscriptions in a timely manner. They don't even seem to have a means by which you can walk in and pay the bill. You can't even talk to a Californian any more when you call the subscription lines.

Now, according to Kevin Roderick in L.A. Observed, the paper has begun telling callers that they can look forward to a more conservative lineup of columnists, or at least some more conservative columnists.

Wonderful! Los Angeles voted for McGovern years ago against Nixon. It just massively voted against Schwarzenegger's ballot measures in the special election. There is every reason to believe the odds are that whoever is told to expect more conservative columnists is most likely to be a liberal.

It's just another sign that these Chicago transplants or Wisconsin know-nothings don't know what they are doing.

Then, Roderick reports, there is the new publisher, Jeff Johnson's, response to a subscriber who contacted him to protest the ouster of leftwing columnist Robert Scheer.

According to this subscriber, a letter soon came back from Johnson, saying:

"For the past 12 years, Bob's passion and eloquence have enriched the opinion pages of the Times, where he previously worked as a reporter. We are grateful for his contributions. However, we are very excited about our new roster of columnists, who are described in more detail in the attached..."

What a phony, unresponsive letter! If Johnson can't be better than that, he should be withdrawn to Chicago, just as the French Government used to periodically withdraw the emissaries they sent to rebellious Algeria in the days of the Third Republic.

Johnson now has responsibility for the editorial pages, since editor Dean Baquet, unwisely in my point of view, declined to take that responsibility. Since Johnson took over, there has been little improvement. Now, it turns out Johnson can't even write a meaningful letter.

The new columnists thus far seem bland and uninteresting. I was usually in disagreement with Scheer, but it's beginning to seem like it was a mistake to get rid of him, especially since neither Johnson nor editorial pages editor Andres Martinez is able to explain why he was ousted.

The truth is, things at the Times are getting worse, far worse.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Modest Proposal Of Alternatives To The L.A. Times Layoffs

Rather than forcing useful L.A. Times personnel into taking buyouts or pursuing 85 or more layoffs, please let me outline some desirable alternatives.

1. Legal action to seize excessive golden parachutes paid past inept executives, such as the minimum $64 million in severance that went to Mark Willes in 2000, the money that went to Thomas Unterman for his Judas-like underhanded sale of the company to the Tribune Co. of Chicago, otherwise known as "The Losers," in 2000, and so forth.

Conservators could be named by California judges to be sure that these retirees were supervised in any expenses or investments still allowed them under bankruptcy. All proceeds to be returned to the Times.

2. Layoffs of unneeded Tribune executives who have sold the company's interests down the river in the last five years, including Dennis FitzSimmons, Scott Smith, Jack Fuller and 150 John Does who have occupied executive offices in Chicago and worked with astonishing ineptitude. They seem to merit the title of "Losers," but determination of the exact facts to be made by jurors appointed by the Times buyout victims going back to the Otis Chandler publishership.

Severance to these gentlemen limited to $25 per year of service, as long as they can prove in a court of law that they need the money.

3. Sale of the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Cubs, the present Losers, to California interests, with the headquarters and all decisions moved to Los Angeles to unoccupied parts of the Times-Mirror complex. Proceeds could be used to protect other former Times-Mirror papers, such as the Baltimore Sun and Newsday, which have been gutted by Chicago executives.

4. Any remaining layoffs needed at the Times to satisfy dollar goals, would be reduced by the amount of money lost in failing to hold circulation, with that money to come out of amounts now currently paid editors at the paper who have complied with Chicago directives in excess of salaries paid similar positions annually as of Jan. 1, 1932. One standard of judgment will be the similarity of statements issued yesterday by publisher Jeff Johnson and editor Dean Baquet with statements issued at Chicago direction at other papers of the company. There is a dreary sameness to these statements, which must have actually been written by lawyers.

5. All reporters and support personnel held in their present salaries pending results of legal actions to be undertaken as outlined above. except for cost of living increases pegged to the CPI over the next 20 years.

6. Further ideas welcomed in comments to this blog.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Alito Should Probably Not Be Confirmed

Here it is in black and white, Sam Alito, applying for a job, saying flatly he does not believe in racial and ethnic quotas, a constitutional right to an abortion or the Warren Court (the outstanding decision of which was to do away with racial segregation).

That's almost enough for me. I'm willing to wait for the hearings, but I'm fairly sure I will not want to see this man on the Supreme Court. What we have already puts him close to G. Harrold Carswell, the Nixon nominee to the court whose selection was rejected after it was revealed that he had told an audience in 1948 he believed in white supremacy.

The nation has moved on even since Alito spoke out in 1985, and it is now fighting a war against fanatic believers in a barbaric wing of a religion. Yet President Bush wants to see a Supreme Court which has a majority of five Catholics who seem committed to a Pope who has already purged some moderates and is clearly not willing to pursue reform.

When someone like Alito takes the same stands as the German pope, Benedict, who recently refused to denounce terrorism against Israel, I know I have little in common with him.

The L.A. Times editorial this morning, good as far as it goes, quotes Alito as telling Sen. Dianne Feinstein that he is now "older" and "wiser" than he was in 1985 when he was applying for a job in the Reagan Administration. Carswell once said much the same about his white supremacy speech.

Alito should be held to proving his reassurances in explicit, not elliptical, language. But as the New York Times said in its editorial on the subject this morning, his excuse that he was merely hunting for a job when he said these things does not excuse them. In fact, it raises the question of what a character like Alito will say this time to get the job. When he made these remarks in 1985, he was a yammering little man on the make, and he still has that appearance.

The signs are bad. Alito is not Sandra Day O'Connor, and he does not sound like a reasonable person in the middle of the road. The Supreme Court is too important to give anyone a lifetime seat who seems unreliable. In naming him, the President was clearly catering to the right in the Republican party and the Christian know-nothings.

We had to find out about Alito from the Reagan Library, incidentally not, the Bush Administration. What comes out of the White House these days is simply not credible.

What finally happened to Carswell by the way? He ran for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senator from Florida, but did not seem to be faring too well, when I went down to Florida as Southern Times correspondent to cover his campaign. I asked his campaign manager what he would consider a mark of success in the campaign, and he answered, "Getting the candidate to take less than three hours for lunch." Later, after he lost in the primary, Carswell was arrested for making a pass at another man in a men's restroom.

Alito is probably better than that. Still, he probably should be rejected.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

L.A. Times To Drop "Outdoors," One Of Many Tribune Cutbacks

Rather than admitting it is a dumb outfit of greasy Midwesterners who cannot do the job, the Tribune Co. of Chicago, an enemy of all Californians, has begun a new round of cost-cutting at the L.A. Times. Unless we get rid of this bunch of losers, the whole newspaper may eventually go under.

The latest cutback is the announcement by editor Dean Baquet that the "Outdoors" section is going to be dropped in December.

"I made the decision that instead of nibbling around the edges of the paper, it made more sense to make one thing go away," Baquet explained. "Something had to go. "It was a question of what." He did not say whether the staff of 10 would be laid off. In light of Associate Editor John Montorio's bombastic statements at a staff meeting, maybe he will be laid off. This would be the proper thing to do, let the captain go down with the ship.

Jim Rainey, the media writer, who seldom is very truthful about the continuing bad news for the company, did not write this latest announcement. Maybe, he too, is sailing off into the sunset.

But it is likely Baquet is, more or less, following orders. The Tribune executives recently paid a visit to Los Angeles, and the cutbacks and layoffs to come are their ultimate responsibility. It is now beginning to look that when John Carroll quit, Baquet would have been wise, for his own reputation, to leave too.

Outdoors, only two years old, was never much of a success. There are reports that some of the pages lost here may be restored to the Sports section, which would be a good idea. But for the most part, I'm afraid it is going to be downhill from here.

Baquet is trying to stay ahead of the curve, and is better at outside PR than the new editorial page editor, Andres Martinez.

Martinez, in a long "note to our readers," this morning on the Op-Ed Page says that Bob Scheer "will not appear" today. But he does not say why. Last week, it was announced that Scheer and editorial cartoonist Michael Ramirez were being dropped at the end of the year.

But Scheer is not there today, and the probability is that he wrote something Martinez and publisher Jeff Johnson couldn't stomach. Instead, today, Joel Stein makes the mnove from the sickly Current to the Op-Ed Page with an insipid little column suggesting, in the very first sentence, "You weren't one of those suckers who voted last week, were you?"

Stein is an utter fool, who didn't belong in Time magazine, doesn't belong with the L.A. Times, shouldn't be writing anywhere. If he's representative of the new lineup on the Op-Ed Page, God Help Us! Because the electorate in last week's election said so decisively no to the policies of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sen. Dianne Feinstein was correct when she called it one of the most important elections in modern California history, and thus well worth voting in.

But the main point is that Martinez is disgracing himself.

As those who read this blog know, I'm not normally an admirer of Bob Scheer, whose attitude toward American policy is not mine. But Scheer tells only the truth in his remarks to outsiders about the Times under the Tribune:

"The (new) publisher is a wise guy accountant, a bean counter from Chicago," he told Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the Nation magazine. "These guys come in from Chicago. They don't know the community, and buying the L.A. Times might be illegal...The paper is in decline."

When Scheer says that buying the Times might have been illegal, he is taking note of the federal rule that a media company shouldn't own a paper and a television station in the same city at the same time, and the Tribune is going to have to seek a waiver or sell either the Times or Channel 5.

But another aspect of the legality question is the provision in the Harry Chandler will that the Times couldn't be sold until the last of Otis Chandler's generations had died. Sleazy lawyers thought they had gotten around this provision, but had any member of the Chandler family sued to prevent the sale, they might have prevailed in court. We may never know.

Since Scheer, and I pay tribute to him for this, isn't leaving quietly, it seems as if Martinez and Johnson may not be running any more of his columns, not waiting until the end of the year to do away with him.

Martinez isn't much of an editor, and one small proof of this is the annoying headlines he is allowing at the beginning of each day's Letter's Column. It is a well known practice of journalism that headlines are supposed to be related to the lead of the story, or in this case letters. But in the Times letter column these days the headline refers not to the first letters, but something someone has written way down in the column of letters. It is confusing and annoying.

It's a small annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless. The editorial pages, purged of half their staff during the summer by the unmourned Michael Kinsley, now has slipped from Kinsley to Martinez. It is not much of a gain.

I'm afraid we're only going to get bad news from the Times day by day.

Monday, November 14, 2005

L.A. Times Articles On Conservators Are A Public Service

The articles now appearing in the L.A. Times on the excesses of conservators and the failure of the legal system to adequately control them are a great public service and will probably win the Times writers a Pulitzer.

Congratulations to the writers, Robin Fields, Evelyn Larrubia and Jack Leonard. Their first two articles have been masterly.

I just hope this work won't generate more jealousy in Chicago, where the directors of the Tribune Co. have been as negligent with the newspapers they bought in 2000, including the Times, as many of these conservators are with the aged people in their care.

The articles point up something I noticed long ago, when I attended Harvard Law School, for, thankfully, only four months. That was that the legal system is mostly corrupt. The people drawn to the legal profession, with some exceptions, are dishonest. And ethical controls are totally inadequate. A hard judgment but true.

The present articles point up the fact, also, that as the population ages, social problems are increasing exponentially in the U.S. Families in many cases simply are not protecting their elder members, and the modern way of life is so complex there comes a time when many of these people cannot protect themselves.

We see it also in the new drug benefit system passed by Congress. It is so complicated most of the recipients are having a hard time understanding what's best for them. And it is riddled with benefits for private enterprise, the drug companies, that care only for their profits and not for the well being of the people they are meant to serve.

The Times has done some great work in recent years. Its pieces about negligent hospitals and inadequate medical care continue. The war correspondents take great risks, as do most of the foreign correspondents. The only part of the newspaper that has really sagged is the editorial pages.

It makes it all the more important that the Times continue as a great newspaper. I think that will only happen if the Tribune Co. gives up the paper, selling it to people as dedicated as the present and past editors have been to do public service.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

New York Times Reports $6.7 Million Of Online Sales Annually Thus Far

In its first extensive report of how it's doing selling its columnists online, the New York Times reported Saturday, it has succeeded in selling 135,000 columnist packages online in the first two months of selling. That means about $6.75 million in sales on an annual basis.

As writer Joseph Nocera summed it up, that "is not half bad," even though, he confesses, there is a lot of resistance to paying for newspaper columnists online.

The New York Times is charging $49.95 a year for the columnists to non-subscribers to the newspaper. Subscribers pay nothing, although they have to register.

Nocera says it costs the NYT more than $200 million a year to generate its editorial product.

So, its online receipts are not much compared to that, but it's a start.

The Los Angeles Times abandoned in May an attempt to charge for Calendar writings online after two years, according to Nocera, and the Wall Street Journal has sold 764,000 online subscriptions, which is fairly successful.

It seems to me, thinking about this, that the L.A. Times bailed out too quickly.

I wonder what would happen if the L.A. Times tried selling its foreign coverage online. After all, under John Montorio's direction, Times Calendar coverage is often strangely slanted. But L.A. Times foreign coverage is good, even if they can't seem to call a terrorist a terrorist, and, if it were marketed, it could be sold worldwide. I think sales could, in time, be substantial. This might be a way of protecting the foreign staff against Tribune Co. desires to cut it.

Generating online sales, needless to say, is important for newspapers, because circulation has been diminishing at most of them.

Compared to the New York Times, the L.A. Times, under Tribune Co. ownership, overall has been sinking. While the New York Times ownership has been determined, both to increase national subscriptions and online sales,. under the Tribune, the L.A. Times has given up on its national edition and not pursued online subscriptions.

As I've suggested, the Tribune Co. is a lackluster outfit. In many respects, its management is incompetent, and if things go on as they are, the L.A. Times could ultimately vanish as a newspaper, that is if it's not sold to local interests, or at least to someone else. Almost anyone would be better than the Tribune is now.

Nocera's report Saturday in the NYT shows online sales are worth pursuing, even if there is reader resistance. L.A. Times columnists might not be marketable at this point, because the editorial pages right now are a terrible product, still under the shadow of Michael Kinsley, as today's malaria editorial shows. But the foreign coverage could well be successfully marketable.

The L.A. Times recently appointed Joel Sappell to take over its Web site, and I would imagine he is casting around for ideas on how to make it profitable. Maybe, he should try marketing the foreign writers.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Maybe LAT Editorial Pages Changes Are Like New Coke And Won't Really Last

Don't look now, but the most compelling parts of the L.A. Times editorial pages this morning, Nov. 12, were the letters mostly pleading for Bob Scheer and Michael Ramirez to remain, and Ramirez's cartoon suggesting what will happen with Arab atomic bombings of the U.S. if media columnist Tim Rutten gets his way.

The Ramirez cartoon has too much writing, as many of his cartoons do, but still...The title is "New Congressionally Sanctioned Interrogation Techniques To Find Where Terrorists Have Hidden A Nuclear Device In Your City," and then there's an interrogator with a rule book asking an Arab, "Section Four...Um, Pretty Please With Sugar On Top."

That's the way the articulate Rutten wants to fight the War On Terror. Fire Judy Miller and emasculate the U.S. intelligence services. I don't question for one moment that Rutten is admirably idealistic, and that there ought to be bounds on U.S. conduct. But we may disagree on exactly where those bounds ought to be set.

Meanwhile, Scheer's supporters are on the page with gusto, and they are a lot more articulate than either the Op Ed Page offerings today, or the wonderfully dumb editorial in the bottom left hand corner of the editorial page trying to argue that most of the Special election results should be reversed.

You'd think Andres Martinez was Harry Chandler, for all the unreconstructionist views he has about the unions' victory the other night.

We can't forget that Martinez was hired by Michael Kinsley, who refused to so much as give George W. Bush a pro forma congratulations on his reeelection. Both men are of the school, "Let's Ignore Democracy."

Now, as for the Op Ed Page, I strongly suspect Op Ed Page editor Nick Goldberg would like to keep Scheer. He's been one of his champions as long as I've known him.

No, the decision to ditch Scheer, (which I've supported, by the way) had to come straight from Chicago via the new publisher, Jeffrey Johnson. There is a school of readers out here who believe Johnson has come out here to try and save circulation by dumbing down the Times and making it less controversial.

Maybe, they're right. But the letters section is staying controversial, and since this does resemble the battle for Classic Coke, maybe it's conceivable the Times will yet announce that Ssheer and Ramirez can stay.

Or maybe not. If the stock brokerage firm, Merrill Lynch, and its expert Lauren Rich, have their way, the Tribune Co. will sell out some of their newspapers, maybe even the Times. If Rupert Murdoch bought the Times, God forbid, he certainly would keep at least Scheer on the way out the door.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Changes On L.A. Times Op-Ed Page, Scheer And Ramirez Dropped

Written from Carlsbad, California--

The L.A. Times, in an unusually candid and explicit article by Michael Kennedy and Rong-Gong Lin II, this morning, Nov. 11, announced major changes on the paper's Op Ed page, including the ouster of leftwing columnist Bob Scheer and rightwing cartoonist Michael Ramirez.

In what looks like another unfortunate cost cutting move from the lackluster Tribune Co., of Chicago, the disastrous Times owners, Ramirez will not be replaced. The Times will no longer have its own cartoonist, although it will run cartoons. That's too bad.

But both Scheer and Ramirez have been in the Times for a long time, and no one should have an indefinite lock on an editorial page. It needs variety.

Having long called for the removal of Scheer, who is a dreary foe of everything the United States tries to do in the world, I will not be critical of that move in any way. Also, Ramirez's extreme conservatism was out of sync with the rest of the editorial pages for a long time.

The Times announced this morning a new lineup of Op-Ed Page writers that on the surface seems quite good. There is both ideological variety and more women. We'll have to see how this works out.

Also, in light of the fact that on Page 1 yesterday, the Times called Abu Musab al-Zarqawi a "militant" rather than a "terrorist" (when the New York Times wisely used "terrorist" in the very first word of its Jordanian bombing story), the L.A. Times editorial this morning marked a refreshing change in language about the War On Terror.

Under the headline, "Pain and anger in Jordan," the LAT editorial began, "Chechen criminals murder children after taking them hostage at a school in Beslan, Russia; Palestinians kill Israeli civilians marking a religious holiday at a hotel; now, in the Jordanian capital of Amman, terrorists murder wedding guests. turning what should have been a celebration into a tragedy. As the atrocities mount, so does the anger."

This, at long last, is the right tone to take on the war.

I say this, fully aware of Ken Silverstein's excellent article on Page 1 this morning on the extensive ties between the CIA and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Even if everything Silverstein says is true, and I have no doubt it is, it still was not appropriate or humane for al-Zarqawi to send a suicide bomber into a wedding reception on Wednesday to kill innocent celebrants.

One final word about the Op Ed Page announcements this morning. I hope disclosing the removals of Scheer and Ramirez on the same day does not mark a tit-for-tat designed to please a consensus. The Times' inconsistent stands on the Special election seemed such a tit-for-tat.

The way to run an editorial page, and a newspaper, is to act as appropriate in single cases, and let the chips fall where they may.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

It's A Shame NYT Could Not Keep Judy Miller. They Will Need Her

How sad it is that Judy Miller has had to leave the New York Times. They're going to need her in the years to come.

We're just at the beginning stages of what is a world war between modern states and the barbarians of fundamentalist Islam, the people who think a perfectly acceptable way to wage war is to walk into a wedding party in Amman and blow everyone possible, men, women and children, to kingdom come, or to torch thousands of cars and other properties in France.

The press, unfortunately, is filled with staff members who have little understanding for or tolerance for war and all its disappointments and defeats. At the L.A. Times, for instance, this morning, in the lead story on the events in Jordan reluctance is displayed to even use terms like "terrorist" or "Muslim." The story refers to the bloody terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi as a "militant." The LAT, however, does have a few realists on its staff, like European correspondent Sebastian Rotella, who know what's happening and write honestly about it.

The New York Times, too, has a few fighters, and more than the L.A. Times a tradition of great war reporting. I'm thinking of Hanson Baldwin and Drew Middleton, great military writers of the past, and Howell Raines, who while he's liberal, was also a courageous executive editor in the wake of 9-11.

Judy Miller is also such a fighter. She may have made a few mistakes, but she knew what the stakes were. She was fascinated with the issue of exotic weapons that may, unfortunately, have yet a great deal to do with the War On Terror, and which parties finally win it.

Miller, like Raines, may have been overbearing, and, as I acknowledge, made some mistakes, but nothing that couldn't be corrected. In both their cases, there should have been adjustments, not terminations. Great talents that under the circumstances had to be adjusted, but still valuable to their institutions, not to be cast aside in the midst of the crisis because of a few lily livered critics on the staff.

Winston Churchill, as Lloyd George once said, had 100 ideas every day and two or three of them were good. The British government kept putting Churchill out to pasture in the political wilderness, especially after the ill-fated Dardanelles campaign of 1915 when he had to resign as First Lord of the Admiralty. But when World War II started, even the appeasement champion Neville Chamberlain brought Churchill back as First Lord. "Winston is back," was the signal sent to the Royal Navy. Later, of course, when Hitler invaded the Low Countries and France, on May 10, 1940 and Britain was up against it, that same day, Chamberlain resigned and Churchill became Prime Minister.

Years later, when the old man used to go down to his school for homecoming, the boys would sing a special stanza of the school song, "Twenty, Thirty and Forty Years On." This was entitled "Sixty Years On," and it went like this: "Sixty years on, though growing older and older, younger at heart you return to the Hill. You who in days of defeat ever bolder, led us to victory, serve Britain still. Still there are bases to guard and beleaguer. Still must the battle for freedom be won. Long may you fight, sir, who fearless and eager, look back today more than 60 years on."

Well, I daresay, that Judy Miller's career will continue. She knows more about some of the weapons than nearly anybody. She is dedicated, a true believer. One day, when they need her, the New York Times may call her back.

The press as a whole, in free countries, must gird up their loins, because we are, as Time magazine said on Dec. 7, 1941, "in a time of trouble."

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Californians On Ballot Measures Seldom Suffer Knaves and Fools

We've seen it before, and we wertainly saw it yesterday. California voters, when it comes to ballot measures, seldom tolerate knaves and fools, whether they are in the governor's office or on the L.A. Times editorial pages.

So, every one of these measures, with the exception of the Los Angeles school bonds, went down to defeat. And good riddance.

It was very unwise of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to think that he could simply abandon his pledge in the Recall election not to bow to special interests, and, to turn around in this election, and cater to every slimy corporate special interest that afflicts this state. Now, he will pay the price, and it could be his reeelection next year. Because. as L.A. Times writers Peter Nicholas and Mark Barabak note this morning, quoting GOP Reagan strategist Stu Spencer, "a lot of personalities have a short shelf life," and, as the writers say, "Schwarzenegger's celebrity may not be the tonic it once was."

There are a few other things to say about the California election results.

For one thing, the public employee unions got together and, for once, fought effectively. They spent a lot of money, and their advertising message was right on the proper line. What it shows is that the union message is not unpopular if it is put right, and ir's a good lesson for organized labor throughout the country. Millions of Californians, like millions of Americans, realize that big business and the Republican party are all too often ready to slash into the income of ordinary Americans these days, whether it's their wages, their medical care, or their pensions. Most people are fed up with these moves, also seen in the court system, and they're not going to take it any more. So the unions can fight and win, as they did in California yesterday.

Another development marked these elections, and that was the emergence of Warren Beatty and his wife as potent political figures. Beatty's radio commercial for the California nurses was the most powerful of the election. He sounded great, and this and his suave public appearances around the election just could mean that he would be the Democrats' strongest candidate for governor next year.

I say that, even though, after Schwarzenegger, many people may feel they have had it with actors for awhile. Beatty, however, looks awfully good. Certainly, he has more pizazz than Phil Angelides or Steve Westly, the main Democratic gubernatorial contenders thus far.

If Beatty looked and sounded good, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and U.S. Sen. John McCain did not, with their repeated unwanted telephone calls and recorded messages. I got a lot of them being a registered Republican. These phone calls belong on the "do not call" lists. In any case, every one I received made me more determined to vote no across the board on the Schwarzenegger proposals.

There was a lot of talk by do-gooders across the political spectrum in this Special election that California ought to finally do away with Hiram Johnson's initiative system. Maybe so, but so often in these elections the people of this state do assert themselves in a rational and excellent way, as they did yesterday, even with all the money that is spent on campaigning.

The Times editorial pages, so often so filled with nonsense, certainly were in this election with their inconsistent endorsements. Who on these pages wanted to strike at the teachers and the unions, with Propositions 74 and 75, both of which the Times endorsed?

They were as foolish and knavish as the governor, and they too got their comeuppance yesterday, as did "Lawrence," my anonymous commentator, not satisfied with expressing his opinions once at the end of my blogs, but twice.

I should make it clear that when I use the terms "knaves and fools," I'm not talking about the people who voted for the governor's initiatives, since most of them I'm sure felt they were doing the right thing. The knaves and fools were Schwarzenegger and others who lined up with the corporate interests to push these measures.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

L.A. Times Circulation Continues Downward Spiral, To 843,432

Why does the L.A. Times circulation continue its sickening decline, now, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation in Editor and Publisher, down to 843,432 daily, about 30% since the lackluster Tribune Co. of Chicago bought the paper in 2000?

Although Times publisher Jeff Johnson would somehow like to spin this figure to 869,819, his own media correspondent, Jim Rainey, while avoiding most discussion of the figures in his ill-focused story this morning, accepts the ABC circulation figures and they are shown in the box accompanying his story.

Of the 20 top papers in the country, 18 lost circulation since last year, five of them by a worse percentage than the LAT. Only the New York Times and the Newark Star-Ledger actually gained circulation. The New York Times was up by 0.5% to 1,126,190.

It should first be noted that the New York Times is suffering from the same demographic declines in its own home area that the L.A. Times is. More than half of its total circulation is now in its national editions outside New York. The NYT, realizing the trends, is pitching its national edition with ever-wider home distribution. The Tribune unwisely abandoned the L.A. Times fairly feeble attempts at a national edition, and has dropped home distribution in virtually all areas outside Southern California.

Nationwide, many people are abandoning newspaper reading for the Internet, in some cases reading papers on line. The NYT is also selling some of its product on-line, although today's ABC figures don't show how it is doing with an experiment the rest of the newspaper world is watching.

Besides this, I think we must appreciate these points in considering the L.A. Times downward spiral:

1--The L.A. Times, under Tribune ownership, is saddled with a losing image of outside control, and in California that is deadly. Californians do not like to deal with inferior companies or products. We see that in attendance declines for sports franchises here that have tanked in the past. I think that LAT quality has held up fairly well up to now, with some exceptions noted below, but still many Los Angelenos now think the paper is going ever downward, and this has hurt circulation.

2--Quality has, however, sunk dramatically on the editorial pages, where the newly renamed Sunday section, Current, is a bad product, and where an inconsistent approach, such as we see on today's Special election, has hurt the image of the paper. The L.A. Times needs an editorial page top editor who is from Los Angeles.

3--The cuts in the sports section are a bad mistake. Sports is very important to Californians. Other sections could have been cut without the devastating impression left by the cuts in Sports.

4--The L.A. Times has quite a few writers who seem to be leaning to the other side in the War On Terror. No, the war is not popular, but neither is the America bashing done by several writers. The Calendar section and the Op Ed Page are particular offenders. The editorial pages have actually drifted to the right under Michael Kinsley and Andres Martinez, but in many quarters the Times is still saddled with a leftwing image because of its Bush bashing and stance on such issues as torture and the war. If the editorial page is considered the soul of the paper, and if Calendar is important in Hollywood, capital of the movie industry, it's obvious these two sections have to be arighted before the paper as a whole can hope to recover.

5--John Carroll, the editor for the first five Tribune years, seemed to the Jewish community to be a closet anti-Semite, and many Jews are totally disaffected from the paper. A recent review of a film understanding of suicide bombers in Calendar did not help matters. The Wiesenthal Center in West L.A. remains negative about the Times, despite a very comprehensive obituary of Simon Wiesenthal. The Chandler family, the former owner, by contrast, was popular in the Jewish community.

6. It could be that all the bad news we are getting these days has simply turned people off of reading the news. I know a few people, including some in my own family, who fit this description.

7--Last, but not least, is the poor effort the Tribune owners have made in pursuing circulation. Although the new publisher, Johnson, has talked about a circulation campaign, comparatively little seems to have been done. As the unmourned Mark Willes once said, in this day and age, circulation is a struggle, and to build it, any paper must be devoted to campaigning for it.

Needless to say, if the latest circulation declines are followed by further layoffs and cutbacks, the Times' problems can only get worse. Yet, since the Tribune owners have displayed neither courage nor wisdom, I'm afraid these are to be expected. They won't fire Steve Lopez, but he can't carry the paper all by himself.

Monday, November 07, 2005

New Steps To Be Taken To Protect LAX Are Timely

Word this morning, Nov. 7, in the L.A. Times that the Los Angeles Airport Commission is about to enter into a $900,000 contract with the RAND Corp., to take steps to reduce concentrations of people waiting to clear security and thus reduce casualties in a possible terrorist attack at LAX is certainly welcome news.

The fact is that the rioting now sweeping France represents an intensification of the terrorist threat throughout the West. By no means can we afford to be sanguine about the threat to Los Angeles and other American cities.

At a time when Democrats nationally and the U.S. press in many places are assailing the Administration's conduct of the War On Terror on a daily basis, we cannot forget we are indeed in a world war against terrorism by Muslim fundamentalists, and the danger here is only growing.

LAX was a terrorist target a few years ago, but this was averted when an alert U.S. immigration agent in Port Aneeles, Wash., was able to stop and apprehend a terrorist carrying explosive materials across the border. Later, it was discovered these were bound for LAX.

This past summer the attacks in London led to intensified security in Los Angeles and other American cities. Now, the events in France are another warning.

The new mayor in Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, was a critic of the former mayor James Hahn's plan to modernize LAX, in part because he felt it would concentrate crowds that could be a terrorist target.

RAND has been studying this question, and it agreed. Furthermore, the long lines outside certain terminals are an inviting target. Now, RAND has a plan to move things inside, hire more ticket agents, etc., as an article by Jennifer Oldham describes.

The situation is different than the L.A. Times editorial writers and some of its columnists would have you believe. The issue of immediate importance is not CIA interrogation techniques of al Queda suspects, but it is precautions that are necessary to prevent a spread of Muslim terrorism in Europe to the U.S.

If terrorists do strike here, I have no doubt there will be a rallying behind the Administration, especially if it shows efficiency in the response.

With the Iraqi elections scheduled for next month, this is not only a time of increased violence in Iraq, but now, suddenly, also in Europe. I for one do not believe this is a coincidence, and here and now in the U.S. is a time for everyone to be alert to the danger here.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Schwarzenegger, L.A. Times Editorial Page, Both Deplorable

That the L.A. Times is very much a mixed bag these days can easily be seen this weekend, as the newspaper tries to have it both ways on Tuesday's California Special election. My advice: Believe Steve Lopez and Sacramento correspondent Dan Morain. Throw the Times editorial page in the trash. And look askance at the lead article in the paper by political writer Michael Finnigan.

The issue in this election is whether the attempt by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the disgraceful drug industry to fool the electorate will be solidly rejected. It is not, as Finnigan terms it, a power struggle between Schwarzenegger and the unions. Schwarzenegger is trying to bludgeon the unions, depriving them of power, while giving influence to the big, bad business interests. The unions, the teachers, the nurses, the police and firemen, are simply trying desperately to defend themselves against the assault.

Finnigan dropped the ball earlier this year while trying to mealy mouth the mayoral election. Now, he's doing the same with this election. He doesn't put things quite straight. If the chief task of a skillful political writer is to handle contradictions fairly, he doesn't measure up.

Lopez has it right, and, as usual, does not mince words. The best thing the Tribune Company's editor, John Carroll, did during his years at the Times was to hire Lopez.

Lopez writes of Schwarzenegger: "Can you believe this guy?

Schwarzenegger, he notes, promised in the Recall election "to get the special interests out of Sacramento."

But, instead, he "has busted all fundraising records, leading the charge in a runaway cash derby. He has forced an unnecessary election he'd love most voters to avoid in hopes that a small group of conservative zealots will win the day. And to put a ribbon on it all, the Terminator has chickened out of face-to-face debates with opponents.

"I'm not sure it is possible to be more hypocritical or insulting than that."

The writers on the Times editorial page are urging voters this morning to vote for both Propositions 74 and 75, shivving both the teachers and the unions.

Lopez demolishes their argument.

"Teacher tenure (Proposition 74) is a preposterous distraction from any honest discussion of education reform," he writes.

"Cracking down on the political influence of a single group (Proposition 75's attack on unions) raises the question: what about the rest of Sacramento's sweethearts, including the hordes of corporate hooligans."

Passing to Dan Morain, we owe a special tribute to his outstanding article a day ago on how the drug companies bought a host of fake endorsements, many of them from minority groups, on behalf of Proposition 78. Their aim was to avoid price controls on the outrageously priced prescription drugs.

A mailer on black politicians falsifies the position of many. This was put together by an old Sacramento sleaze, the former legislator Gwen Moore, who has done the bidding of the special interests before.

Morain's expertise is political fundraising, and it is probably worse in this election than any other. Schwarzenegger's corruption has made it all worse, and, hopefully, if he is defeated in this election, it will set him on the road to defeat for reelection next year. He not only groped those women, he is now attempting to manhandle all the people of California.

Also commendable is the article in Sunday's California section on misleading advertising in the campaign, by Evan Halper and Jordan Rau.

Under the newest Chicago Tribune implant, publisher Jeff Johnson, the Times editorial pages got rid of Michael Kinsley. But they have continued their downward spiral since, and that is evident this morning. The editorials oppose some of what Schwarzenegger has done, but by no means all of it. They are his accomplice on slashing away at the teachers and unions. The best thing to do with the editorials this morning, as I suggested, is to throw them in the trash and follow Morain and Lopez.

As for Finnigan, I'm disappointed. He has shown again in this election that he may mean well, but he lacks the skill to set things in the proper context.

The power struggle he writes about is the kind of bludgeoning Schwarzenegger's Nazi forebears used to try performing in the Old Country in the 1930s.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Changes At CNN, L.A. Times

CNN has ousted one of the better, more sensitive newsmen in the business, nighttime anchor Aaron Brown, and I, for one, am going to miss him.

And the L.A. Times is rumored to be considering ousting leftwing columnist Bob Scheer, and has named Jim Newton to head a reconstituted County Bureau.

To take these in order, Brown's reporting is not only perceptive, but he has been one of the few newsmen in the U.S. to recognize the full horrors of suicide bombings and other manifestations of extremist Islamics. He's being replaced by Anderson Cooper, who has never done much for me. Specifically, during the hurricane crisis in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, it was Brown who first sized up the enormity of the derelictions of the Bush Administration in handling the disaster. His frequent questions, a use of the Socratic method, were excellent.

It is said that Brown was a victim of ratings and that Anderson Cooper is a comer. I have my doubts about this. It seems to me, Brown was outstanding, that he addressed shortcomings in its news presentation that marked CNN, and that he suffered from changes ordered by higher-ups in his program.

I hope he gets another great job soon. We don't have enough good television broadcasters.

If the Times does get rid of Bob Scheer, it will be good news, not least for the Times, which has suffered from his one-sidedly anti-American reporting. He has been a Johnny one-note for a long time, and an embarrassment. Perhaps, he could now formally become al Queda's ambassador in the U.S.

If Scheer does go, maybe the publisher, Jeff Johnson, should also take some steps to lessen the slant of the Calendar section, which seems to be more critical of American policy than al Queda policies in the War on Terror.

The appointment of Jim Newton to head a new county bureau at the L.A. Times is of mixed value. Newton works hard, but lacks the political judgment of a predecessor, Bill Boyarsky. I think of late, Times political reporting has been quite good. This may be not much of an improvement. But maybe Newton has learned something while researching his book on Earl Warren. He was somewhat better on local politics before than he was when he also directed state political coverage.

Some of Janet Clayton's other appointments, such as Nita Lelyveld, to an editing position, are commendable, and all in all, the shakeup won't do much harm.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Rioting Spreads In Muslim Areas of France; Incidents In Britain

Weeklong rioting in Muslim neighborhoods on the northeast side of Paris has now spread to other parts of France, with hundreds of cases of arson, and a police crackdown underway. The trouble made Page 1 of the L.A. Times today, with a story by the newspaper's crack European terrorism correspondent, Sebastian Rotella. Russia and the U.S. both warned their nationals to be cautious in Paris.

Meanwhile, British police reported desiccration of Muslim graves near Birmingham,

So, as has long been predicted, Western Europe is now facing the consequences of poorly controlled immigration and poor assimilation of Muslim youths. Unrest in the Netherlands, the murders of two outspoken Muslim critics there, has already sent that country's white majority politically to the right. There can be little doubt that the present rioting will now affect French politics where the prime minister, Dominique de Villepin and the interior minister, Nicholas Sarkozy, favor different approaches as they jockey to succeed Chirac in the next presidential election.

The fact is, the European countries are even less tolerant than the U.S. Muslims are better assimilated and, in proportion, less numerous in America than in Western Europe, and the war on terror could come to Western Europe with a vengeance in the months ahead.

It is ironic that the first really wide rioting is occurring in France, where the Chirac government has long vainly boasted of a more successful policy than the U.S.

But the French are a more xenophobic people than the Americans, and France unwisely took in too many North Africans after the end of the Algerian war. Now, it is paying the price. However, we must be sympathetic and supportive. As in Israel, Chechnya, Kashmir and other places where the terrorists have struck, the attackers are repulsive people whose only skill is striking, with deadly firebombs, the innocent.

Liberals in both the U.S. and France have blamed Muslim militancy worldwide on Western intervention in the Middle East. This is certainly part of the story, but the New York Times has been running academic articles of late pointing out that the Osama bin Laden crowd has long called the jihadist campaign a worldwide phenomenon, and its goals are not limited to the Middle East. They seek to disrupt civil life and end freedom everywhere, and that's why we and our allies are fighting them everywhere.

France has vacillated in the last week between a police crackdown and calls for Muslim reason. The calls for reason aren't working, and the crackdown may, at least in the short run, only exacerbate the problems. But the fight has to go on.

The British, meanwhile, have begun deporting Muslim supporters of terrorism from the U.K. Deportations not limited to dangerous clerics may be just around the corner in France. Altogether, it is a somber prospect. But as Spain found out centuries ago, tolerance does not cool Muslim aggression.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Orange Line Should Be Shut Down Until It Can Be Made Safe

There is absolutely nothing surprising in the fact that several accidents have already occurred on the new Orange Line so poorly designed in the San Fernando Valley, and the line ought to be shut down until it can be made safe.

Southern California transit, with the exception of the Red Line, the subway, is constructed so cheaply that it doesn't have the grade separation that marks even the most elementary European lines. Grade separation keeps public transit running on a different level than private cars and trucks, thereby averting the accidents that have killed more than 90 persons on Los Angeles' Blue Line, and the accidents that injured 17 persons yesterday on the Orange Line.

The trouble is that grade separation, tunneling or bridging light rail and the dedicated bus way over or under the streets and intersections, costs money. Hundreds of millions of dollars.

In his column in the L.A. Times today, Steve Lopez also notes that sound walls constructed for the Orange Line keep bus drivers from seeing oncoming traffic. The designers of the Orange Line should be held responsible for putting up barriers that have made the speeding buses a menace.

Another problem is that the line intersects major thoroughfares from odd directions. An intersection close to my house, Fulton and Burbank, has now become a six-way intersection, with the bus line coming in blindly. Stop lights are an inadequate safeguard; here, it is clear, there need to be crossing rails which can block traffic.

But even crossing rails have not prevented accidents on the Blue Line.

It is easy to blame careless drivers for many crashs, but the New York Times has done articles which say that the real fault for many of the accidents is the speeding trains, arriving at such high velocities they cannot be seen in time.

The planners of the Orange Liue boasted they would be able to offer rides lasting only 40 minutes from one end of the line to the other. This is a fallacy now that the buses have been ordered to slow to 10 miles an hour when approaching each intersection. What we are stuck with without grade separation is a slow line that provides no real advantage to anyone, while making traffic accidents inevitable.

Under these circumstances, public officials must swallow their pride, and close down the line until it can be reconstructed to operate safely. If they don';t have the money, the line should be closed until they do.

The European lines that offer grade separation are in countries without the resources in some cases that we have here in the U.S., so it is a travesty that the Orange Line was built in the way it was, presenting a new danger to both riders and motorists.

We'll soon see whether L.A. Times editorial writers will advocate the necessary actions to protect public safety, or stick their heads in the sand like they do on so many issues.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Polls Indicate Schwarzenegger Going Down In Special Election

Polls published today in the L.A. Times and other media indicate that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger faces defeat next Tuesday in the special election he and his corporate contributors foisted on the electorate.

Nothing would be better news, although foes of the governor and his craven pandering to special interests must rally themselves to go to the polls and be sure the defeat takes place. Schwarzenegger called the election in hopes of a skewed voter turnout, and now is advertising in such a way as to encourage Republicans to vote and Democrats not to vote.

Most important to defeat is Proposition 75, the Schwarzenegger trick to disarm the public employee unions while leaving his business friends free to pour their money into his campaign coffers. This thoroughly corrupt proposition was trailing this morning in the Times poll by 51 to 40%.

But it's important too to defeat the anti-teacher and spending limit propositions, other tricks the governor is playing on the electorate.

In the Recall Election, Schwarzenegger won on his celebrity background and a BIG lie -- namely that he would fight the special interests. Ever since achieving office, however, he has sought big contributions and done favors for a whole host of business interests.

Most notably, Schwarzenegger entered into an $8 million contract with a fitness magazine to do its bidding. He then vetoed legislation to control dangerous diet supplements. This alone amounts to accepting a bribe. The governor belongs in jail, not the state capitol in Sacramento. Even his own wife has stopped speaking in his behalf.

The unions and the teachers have been fighting effectively against the propositions in this Special. Now, the hope is that if Schwarzenegger is indeed defeated badly enough, he may decide not to run next year for reelection. He will have been disgraced badly.

Let's pray, work and vote for that result. Schwarzenegger has been a terrible disappointment. Now, California must put itself back on track after two unsuccessful, not to say unsavory, governors, Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Particularly commendable this morning in the L.A. Times is the column by Steve Lopez on Page 1 in the California section.

Lopez observed of the Special, "This is where we are two years after a special election in which we elected a governor who promised he'd terminate special-interest fundraising, partisan monkey business and big borrowing, three categories in which he now reigns as undisputed heavyweight champ."

Lopez also warns that should Schwarzenegger prevail, California could become another banana republic.

God willing, he won't.

The saddest thing so far is that Andres Martinez and the L.A. Times editorial page have endorsed Proposition 75, showing the desire of the paper's Chicago Tribune owners to go back to the days of the unionbusters, Herbert Hoover, Warren Harding and William Howard Taft, the Presidents who led us into the Depression.

Also, it's noticeable that the so-called political expert, Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, has been supporting Proposition 75. Jeffe, whose political expertise is very limited, seems to be currying favor with the Times Editorial Page staff. She ought to be dropped as an anti-union shill for the same interests that disgraced California in Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. She, like Schwarzenegger, is baggage California ought to toss aside onto the trash bin of California history.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Time Magazine and New York Times Take On Retirement Scandal

In the last week, both Time magazine and the New York Times Magazine have run lengthy articles about the increasing scandal in American retirement systems, whereby rapacious businessmen have been robbing their employees of their pension benefits, using loopholes created by Congress.

The tactic often used is bankruptcy. By going bankrupt, big business, such as United Airlines, can go to the courts and get out of their pension obligations. These are then taken up very partially by a government pension "guarantee" organization that limits payments and is already deeply in the red itself. This is becoming a greater scandal than the failure of the savings and loans more than a decade ago.

More and more, people who have worked for many years to accumulate benefits are finding themselves stripped of most of those benefits, while, quite often, the executives of the bankrupt firms walk off with huge severance packages. Mark Willes of Times-Mirror, for example, took at least $64 million, for example, after the papers were sold out to the mediocre Tribune corporation.

Time magazine's Pulitzer Prize winning investigative team of Donald L. Bartlett and James B. Steele, often called the finest investigative reporters in the U.S., wrote at length about this crisis last week, and the New York Times Magazine also had a long article by Roger Lowenstein, who has written for the NYT before about the fallacy of President Bush's contention that social security faced bankruptcy.

The Los Angeles Times, by contrast, has done comparatively little on the subject, which is not too surprising when one considers that the owners of the Times., the infamous Tribune Co. of Chicago, has been a culprit in attempting to reduce pensions for its employees.

As the proportion of retired people compared to actually working people continues to rise, there is a general tendency toward pensions becoming less and less adequate. The money has simply not been put aside in sufficient amounts to keep them afloat.

Meanwhile, such government agencies as the city of San Diego find themselves deep in the hole in having the resources to pay supposedly guaranteed public pensions. In part, this is because they have over promised benefits to people who retire too early and live too long. You can't wring much water from a dried turnip which is the state of many grossly underfunded pensions.

Congress, no surprise, Bartlett and Steele write, has proved a poor protector of the public welfare, often writing in huge loopholes and generally doing the bidding of corporate lobbyists. This is true of both Democrats and Republicans in the Congress.

I think it's highly important that we all read, study and fully understand these articles. A few wealthy plutocrats are benefitting from the developing system while millions of working people will ultimately find themselves paupers. This is more a crime than a mistake.