Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Federal Effort In Hurricane Disaster Grows

Written from Jasper, Alberta--

Twenty-four hours makes a lot of difference. If yesterday, the federal effort in the hurricane crisis seemed desultory, today it is clear the government, with all its power, is revving up, sending all kinds of assistance. It has some catching up to do.

And still, there could be a crisis of confidence in the country, especially if gas shortages should develop this weekend to go with the gas price increases.

With the refineries on the Gulf Coast shut down, with the biggest pipelines not operating due to power failure, a shortage could be hours away.

Army Corps of Engineers estimates that it may be days or weeks before the levee breaks in New Orleans can be sealed cannot be allowed to stand. The job should be put in other hands if the Corps, a notoriously slow and incompetent agency, cannot move quickly. It is obviously important, that all steps be taken to seal the levee breaks in coming hours. No public expense and effort must be spared.

As for the private oil industry, government supervision of its efforts and close controls if necessary, should be implemented quickly if they prove necessary.

It is commendable that over night the governor of Louisiana announced that thousands of refugees now housed in the Super Dome will be moved to the Houston Astrodome. It is vital to get helpless refugees to a safer location.

This may be a protracted business, but we should be on the upward curve soon. In the meantime, the news media should do its job, which is to report the news without fear or bias. So far, that has certainly been the case.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Hurricane Disaster Will Test A Lagging FEMA And President Bush

Written from Jasper, Alberta--

The mounting toll of Hurricane Katrina, with levee breaches in New Orleans, and forecasts of many , will be a test for FEMA, which has deteriorated under the Bush Administration.

It has long been hinted that the present Administration wasn't ready to accept the role assigned by previous administrations to disaster relief. The head of FEMA, Michael Brown, is no match for James Lee Witt, President Clinton's man in the job.

But with the importance of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to U.S. energy supplies, the Administration is likely to be thrust willy-nilly into the relief effort in this instance.

What I think will become evident in a big hurry is that it's not ready.

President Bush commendably called his vacation short and is hurrying back to Washington to monitor the situation. It's going to tax his capabilities.

The first priority must go to rescue New Orleans, put the Army Corps of Engineers to work sealing the breaches in the levee and finding what might not be such temporary shelter for the hundreds of thousands of residents who fled New Orleans before the disaster, or stayed there, probably foolishly, to confront it.

These people cannot go back until New Orleans is high and dry, and given the fact that it is below sea level, that is not going to be so easy.

Now that the natural balance has been destroyed and Lake Pontchartrain has drained into the city, it will be difficult to restore the situation to what it was before the hurricane struck. James McPhee, the nature writer, may wonder whether this can be done at all.

Reporting from the scene, in the meantime, makes it plain that only the military, and not just the national guard, can rescue hundreds, maybe thousands of people confined to the roofs and attics of their homes.

And what about the French Quarter? When the levees are restored, that must be pumped dry and restored as a national institution.

Will the insurance industry be adequate for the job? Will reinsurance come through? My own experience as an insurance reporter makes me very much doubt it. The private insurers usually try to cut corners and leave most of the hard work to the government. Their first priority has almost always been to shortchange their own policyholders. Reinsurance almost always has been shown to lack the resources it claims to fulfill its role.

Now, we not only have an Administration which has allowed FEMA to be weakened, but it has a godawful record of compelling private enterprise to do its job. By the time this is over, George W. Bush may appear to be another Chuck Quackenbush, the corrupt California insurance commissioner who was forced to move to Hawaii to avoid prosecution after falling down in the Northridge relief effort.

Of course, the President can't quit. He'll have to prove resilient.

Monday, August 29, 2005

CNN Does Well On Hurricane Coverage

Written from Jasper, Alberta--

CNN showed today it could get back successfully to what it does best: cover the news, as it did very well covering the Great Hurricane of 2005, Katrina, striking New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

I've been an admirer of Soledad O'Brien for some time. On the morning show, this ever unflappable anchor outdid herself. It was one of the finest performances of her career. She was particularly good in an early interview, while the storm still raged, with Louisiana's Senator, Mary Landrieu.

I was less admiring of Anderson Cooper, who was stuck well out of the main thrust of the storm in Baton Rouge, but was pretending, not very successfully, that he was at the heart of the action.

CNN correspondents did very well in New Orleans, Gulfport and Biloxi, especially the able, empathetic Jeanne Meserve in New Orleans, although one other correspondent did say tha storm had not yet reached its worst in New Orleans, when it had just passed by.

The regular news networks, NBC and CBS, available as I watched from a hotel room in Whitecourt, Alberta, did quite well, although they did not stick with the story as long as CNN.

Again, I did not see Fox, since Canadian hotels rarely show Fox.

CNN showed how well it can do when it really works at the news. It ought to do more of this, and, by the way, CNN anchors properly emphasized the important economic aspects of the storm story, its effect on the U.S. refining and general energy supplies. Later, coverage took a darker turn after it was reported that 55 had died along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and hundreds were stranded in flooded homes in New Orleans.

I found even the Canadian broadcasting stations, such as the big local news station in Edmonton, concentrating heavily on the hurricane story, which Canadians were talking about all day.

You did not need to tell Canadians where New Orleans was and what it stood for. The Edmonton newspaper, the Journal, had a big headline on Page 1 about evacuation of the "Big Easy."

Grizzled news reporters or not, we can all empathize with the residents of Louisiana and Mississippi, and wish them well, while paying tribute to the news men and women who covered the story.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Reevaluating Clinton On The Kosovo War. He Stepped Up The Action and Prevailed

Written from High Level, Alberta--

When compared to President George W. Bush, who has allowed himself to sink toward a quagmire in Iraq, the former President, Bill Clinton, seems to have done a better job in fighting the war in Kosovo.

In retrospect, again, Clinton, once he decided to fight, adjusted his policy steadily toward more rigorous war and ultimately prevailed, largely by air power.

There were moments when Clinton too appeared to be faced with a quagmire. It took him a long time to decide to exercise American power in the Balkans. And once he did, he started slowly.

But look at what happened. When it appeared that Yugoslavia was fighting on, Clinton stepped up the air attacks, encouraged the Albanians to open up an attack of their own, and ratcheted up the action to the point where Milosovich quit. It turns out to have been a skillful use of imperial power. And let's not kid ourselves, the U.S. must occasionally use imperial power.

Clinton appreciated a truth of real politique: Don't be too quick to fight. But once you decide to do so, pour in enough force to prevail in a reasonable time period. After all, Yugoslavia was simply too small a country to face off successfully against the U.S. and the other NATO powers.

By waiting to fight, Clinton was able to summon up a successful coalition, which Bush has had trouble doing in Iraq and even in the War on Terror in its entirety.

But the fact is that, just as with Yugoslavia, Iraq is too small to successfully take on the U.S., if the U.S. is determined to use enough force to win.

Clinton repeatedly readjusted his strategy in the Balkans. Even the attack on the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade may, actually, have been an intentional, bold stroke to get across the point that we were prepared to do what was necessary to prevail. Especially, since there were signs the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade may have been used for intelligence purposes against us. It was relatively easy for us to call it a mistake.

We need in the present circumstances to use more air power, to punish the Sunnis who have been joining the terrorists in fighting against us. Maybe an "accidental" attack on the Syrian border might even do some good. The Arabs will fold if enough force is used against them.

Who would have thought a year or so ago that Bush would turn out to be such a pussy cat, and that Clinton would have been confirmed so plainly to have been a successful war leader?

My friend Shelly Sloan might not like the comparison, but there it is.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

CNN Sinks, No Longer Offering News All The Time

Written from High Level, Alberta--

CNN is no longer a 24-hour news station. Even Headline News now has special features that get away from the news. And the main CNN channel has so many canned features, unexciting repeats, Larry King insipid interviews, that if you want news, you'd better go to Yahoo or one of the newspaper web sites.

In the kind of hurricane emergency that broke on the country this weekend, CNN does concentrate on it and does a good job. But all too often, when there is no such overriding story, it saves money by not giving a full news report of what there is.

The evening CNN lineup is particularly unappetizing. Between the Aaron Brown and Lou Dobbs programs, back to back, one tends to be on the Left and the other on the Right, and they seldom deal with the same subjects. Often, they both pay scant attention to the main news stories of the day.

Here in Canada, where I've been traveling since Aug. 9, the hotels either have select American network stations or CNN in additional to the local and Canadawide stations. No one carries Fox News, since it's regarded as an American propaganda piece.

The result is if you want U.S. news, you've got to wait for the network news. CNN particularly in the early evening and on the weekends simply is not showing much news, although on a really big story they would go to "breaking news."

It seems, however, that 24 hour cable news is increasingly devoted to soap operas, such as the apparent Aruba murder, various crimes in the U.S. etc. The amount of time devoted to Iraq, at a time when U.S. casualties continue to mount and the situation is clearly out of control, has diminished sharply.

CNN does offer some news backgrounders, such as a recent feature on whether there is life on other planets. It ran repeatedly, despite the fact that it was a dull, unimaginative takeout, as so many of these backgrounders are these days.

CNN has undergone many managerial changes in hopes of reversing the trend to Fox. The net result is that it's not much good anymore.

It's a shame! This outfit, when Turner and Johnson were in charge, was once professional. It no longer is.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Kinsley Should Be On His Way, Quickly

Written from Blachford Fishing Lodge, Canadian Northwest Territories--

I'm surprised Michael Kinsley is still around, trying to implement insipid reforms on the editorial pages.

Let's have real editorials to the maximum extent and Kinsley at home in Seattle or on his way to the unlucky Atlantic magazine or whatever.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Bush Administration Dead In The Water On Both The War and Gas Prices

Written from Yellowknife, Canadian Northwest Territories--

The Bush Administration seems fresh out of ideas on what to do about the war in Iraq and escalating gasoline prices, and the whole world is suffering from it.

It was time after the election to revamp these policies, getting rid of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and bringing in someone, like Sen. John McCain, who would fight the war more vigorously.

Similarly, Norman Maneda, the transportation secretary, was pathetic yesterday as he announced a new policy on gas mileage for SUVs that would not do anything for six years, and then make only a two-mile-per gallon change. He needs to be replaced and new energy policies adopted immediately. General Motors and the other dopes who run the American automobile industry, need to be taken in hand and directed to stop producing any automobiles, as distinct from heavyduty trucks, that do not get 40 mpg or better. Much more use of alternative fuels needs also to commence as soon as possible.

The whole world, every country except those few with huge oil surpluses, is suffering from the failure of the United States to wind up the war as brutally as necessary, and to take action to stem the bandits in the Arab world and others who are charging more and more for oil.

Meanwhile, the government must take the oil companies in hand, with an excess profits tax and use its oil reserve to jockey down prices in the short term.

As for the war, the Canadians I spoke with a few days ago in Telegraph Creek, B.C., were right who suggested that the U.S. is following a wimpish, no-win war policy in complete contrast with its original assurances that it would over-awe the Iraqis with lightning speed.

B-52s should be used to plaster the Sunni heartland until the insurgents beg for mercy. And the Shiites should be told with no lack of timidity that, no, they cannot have a constitution that barbaricly discriminates against women and gives primacy to a religion that was out of date a thousand years ago.

The U.S. must clearly side with the Kurds in Iraq. Unless the Shiites and Sunnis do our biding, they should be punished and severely until they give in. We need not worry about making Iraqi civilians feel the brunt of our campaign, no more than Sherman did the Southern white civilians when he marched through Georgia.

This policy should be announced to the whole world and pursued actively until it succeeds.

Words of defending a policy that clearly hasn't worked are coming every day from President Bush. He needs to gird up his loins and change that policy. We are on top in benighted Iraq, and the Iraqis, except for the Kurds, need to feel it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Yellowknife, Canadian Northwest Territories, Wants Prior Approval Of Bloggers

Written from Yellowknife, Canadian Northwest Territories--

I've used more than a dozen libraries in my trip to Alaska and Canada to write excerpts of this blog, free and without restrictions other than time. But the Yellowknife public library blocked me from writing one this morning. Two librarians told me it was public policy in this town to approve the content of all blogs first. Review would take 24 hours, I was told.

In fact, the computers in the library here won't allow searches of blogsites. In other words, users can't look at someone else's blog.

This is another sign that Canada is not the country it once was. It has grown scared of the expression of free opinions in some respects, and it is highly politically correct. I would predict Yellowknife Library's foul example would spread.

I arrived here in the capital of the Canadian Northwest Territories four days ago on what will be an eight-day visit. So far, I've found Yellowknife to be quite cosmopolitan. However, the influx of many Asians in recent years, including quite a few Hong Kong Chinese, has inspired some outspoken prejudice against them, as well as expressions of welcome.

I've been running into quite a few Canadians on the trip with anti-American views centered on the Bush Administration. Of course, that is their right. But I wonder if Canada is not operating to some extent on a notion that if it doesn't back the U.S., it won't run afoul of the War on Terror.

To be fair, Canada is helping out, along with other NATO countries, in Afghanistan. In fact, there have been attacks against Canadian forces. Two female members of these forces were wounded in a roadside explosion this week.

But in other respects, Canada has been putting distance between itself and the U.S.

If terrorism did strike in Canada, it probably would be quick in asking for U.S. help, as the Dutch and Belgians did of Britain and France when Hitler invaded those "neutral" countries in 1940.

There have already been two instances of probable Sikh terrorism directed against Air India flights out of Canada, including the loss of 329 persons aboard a bombed Air India jet off Ireland a few years ago. This, however, did not emanate from al Queda.

When I see libraries start telling bloggers they can't use their facilities without an advance look of what they have to say, this strikes me as an important impediment against freedom of speech.

It is consistent in a way with the strike against freedom of the press in the U.S. with the unconstitutional imprisonment of New York Times reporter Judith Miller. I see numerous foreign journalists and intellectuals have petitioned against that just today. Why aren't American journalists more outspoken in her behalf? And why isn't there much more of a campaign against federal judge Thomas Hogan, the sympathizer with tyranny that put Miller in jail?

The spread of suicide bombers, other terrorism, religious fanaticism, is scaring people like the Fascists did in the 1930s. The struggle against them must indeed be unrelenting.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Highway Into Yellowknife Worst Of The Trip

Written from Yellowknife, Canadian Northwest Territories--

The odometer on my Camry showed I had accumulated 7,662 miles thus far on my Alaska and Canada trip, as I rolled into Yellowknife Friday afternoon. The last 20 miles was, by far, the roughest road of the trip, unpaved, ungraded, amid uncompleted last paving that has taken the authorities three years already and will not be ready this year.

(Added on June 27, 2007: I notice this blog is often referred to by viewers on Google. Just for the record, the unpaved portions of the highway leading into Yellowknife must surely have been paved by now).

Yellowknife has a striking landscape a little reminiscent of the West Bank outside Jerusalem with its infinitely rocky terrain. But in this case, the rocks are huge granite outcroppings from the glaciers that once scraped by this area. Yellowknife has these outcroppings at every turn, and seven lakes within the city limits.

The Canadians have labor shortages in their far north. On the Alaska Highway, between Whitehorse and the Alaska line, they established a work camp for the construction personnel and moved everyone out into the sticks for two years building the road. Around Yellowknife, they've had a dispute with the native tribes as to just who is going to staff the conwtruction. Regardless, building this road is like a military operation, and the distances are huge. Since I crossed the British Columbia-Northwest Territories border last week, I've done 400 miles of driving on dirt roads.

The road building in permafrost is challenging. A special, highly expensive kind of pavement is necessary, if it's going to last, and it takes a long time. Plus, here, they must blast through all these granite outcroppings. It's quite wild country, mostly unpopulated. On the Ford Laird Highway, 200 miles, I met less than 10 cars coming the opposite direction.

Friday afternoon, they didn't even have pilot cars to shepherd regular traffic through the mess. Through happenstance, I ended up leading a caravan myself, quite an experience, dodging equipment and skipping across potholes and ruts.

The first thing I did when I arrived was to go to Yellowknife's only car wash, where it cost $23 Canadian to get everything cleaned.

Hunting season starts here tomorrow. There are many buffalo in this area, and someone tells me they are more apt to charge motorists than buffalo further south. They are wilder, although about the same sise. The buffalo have proliferated here, since there are no cattle raised this far north and no cattlemen to fight their repopulation.

Anyway, the hotels will be all full for the hunt. I'm either going to move into a bed and breakfast for a few days, or to a hunting lodge out on Great Slave Lake, a huge inland body of water that feeds the MacKenzie River and contains a great many 30-pound lake trout.

Yellowknife has wonderful exhibits of Canada's struggle to tame the far north and help the tribes in the Arctic. Other than that, this town of more than 20,000 is rather cosmopolitan, heavily populated also by Hong Kong immigrants who came in when China took over. There are excellent Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants here.

Anyway, I've been enjoying this second main destination of my long drive. I bought some eskimo art for the family yesterday and will remain here a week before turning for home.


Friday, August 19, 2005

L.A. Times Advertising Losses Ominous

Written from Yellowknife, Capital of Canadian Northwest Territories--

The latest visit of Tribune executives to Los Angeles, Dennis FitzSimons and Scott Smith, saw them this time coming downtown rather than confining their visit to the Burbank Airport.

But the news that accompanied the latest visit was bad: L.A. Times overall advertising down 11% in July from last year, (while Tribune advertising was rising 6.7%). This could mean further costcutting at the Times, despite the fact that past cost cutting has put the paper in a downward spiral.

One problem is that there's no love of Chicago in L.A., and many subscribers are leaving, advertisers are quitting. They think this is the Californian thing to do. In California, the vast preponderant majority would like to see Chicago give up and sell the paper back to California interests.

Not until Chicago gives up and adopts this course is the situation apt to be reversed.

But it would help if the new publisher Jeff Johnson hires some reliable Californians to push advertising sales.

At least, according to reports that have surfaced, no big new cutbacks were ordered by the visiting executives. But this may only be a matter of time.

It's possible the paper cannot be sold until the present lawsuit relating to the Matthew Bender sale is cleared up. In short, we are still living with the Kathryn Downing possible legal and tax mistakes. No new buyer wants to come forward while there are such legal uncertainties. This could cost the Tribune $1 billion in new taxes, and I doubt very much if Mark Willes will be willing to give up his severance to help pay for his protege's errors, if the courts formally hold them to be errors.

Two big outside pieces are reportedly being written on the troubles of the Times, one by Ken Auletta, who has written on this subject before.

It's liable, unfortunately, to get worse before it gets better.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Good Luck To Dean Baquet, New L.A. Times Editor

Written from Fort Simpson, Canadian Northwest Territories--

With 7,317 miles logged on my trip to Alaska and Canada so far, I feel sort of out of touch, even thought I've been reading L.A. Observed, receiving some e-mails from home and hearing some of what's going on.

Now that Dean Baquet has taken over as editor, my hopes are considerable for his success, both in L.A. and Chicago. We'll see about his selections for top assistants soon.

Baquet is personable, should get along better in Los Angeles than John Carroll did, and may even have more clout in Chicago, we'll see.

I missed the services for Erwin Baker and David Shaw and would have liked to have been at both. The two men's careers demonstrate the tremendous diversity of talent at the Times.

There is a free ferry necessary to get across the Laird River to reach Fort Simpson, a trading post dating from 1804. So when Lewis and Clark were making their way across the Great Plains, the Canadians were already settling their own Far West.

A fellow guest at my bed and breakfast from the Province of Ontario objected to me watching American TV News this morning, saying he only watches Canadian News. I told him that is a good way to avoid knowing what's going on.

Canadian Broadcasting is having a strike this week, so there is even less news than normal.

On to Yellowknife tomorrow. With mostly dirt roads in the Province and hundreds of miles of them, my car is caked with several layers of dirt and dust, but I've been having a good time.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Lots Of Talk About Bush On The Alaska Highway, None Of It Good

Written from Muncho Lake, BC--

When I first started driving north on the Alaska Highway in June, the Canadian price for gas was about a dollar a liter. Now, coming south, it's $1.21, up 20%, and there is much talk about how business is off.

You still run into families driving the highway, but there's concern amongst the businesspeople about the fall and winter ahead, when, normally, most of the traffic is commercial.

Will the Bush Administration do anything to put the profits of the oil companies to some conservation use? That's the question raised by a man driving from Lethridge, Alberta, to Whitehorse, in the Yukon.

And just how high will gas go? The possibility for much more in increases is certainly not ruled out.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Discussion With Canadian Journalists On Attitudes On The War

Written from Watson Lake, The Yukon--

Mark Hume, a Vancouver correspondent for the Toronto Globe and Mail, his wife, two grown daughters and a friend, a doctor and writer from Prince George, B.C., were staying in the same suite of rooms as mine in Telegraph Creek, B.C., last night and discussion passed to Canadian attitudes on the War on Terror. The Globe and Mail has been running quite a bit on this subject lately. Just last week, a Canadian court ordered Canadian intelligence agents to stop interrogating an al Queda suspect from Canada at the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay. The suspect had killed a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan and has been held three years. He is a confessed al Queda, and a Canadian citizen, but now Canada won't aid in his prosecution.

I expressed concern that Canada's attitude toward the War on Terror is reminiscent of the attitude of European neutrals in World War II before Hitler invaded their countries. They hoped by staying out of the fight, remaining neutral, they would not be the target of hostile action. But, ultimately, regardless of their attitude, such countries as Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium and Greece were invaded. It turned out to be their fight too.

Some of the correspondent's family and friends said they felt the U.S., in invading Iraq, had merely stirred things up. So the U.S. was responsible.

But the doctor said he blamed the U.S. for not finishing the job. After all, hadn't Rumsfeld promised to overwhelm the Iraqis? Why not fight the war with mass bombings, etc., he wanted to know. "Rumsfeld's plan was to awe the Iraqis with massive attack. But later, he gave up on that strategy."

Both the doctor and the journalist's wife, who is also a journalist, said they blame the U.S. for muddling things up with halfway measures. This journalist had just returned from Florida, where she covered the Space Shuttle for a Vancouver paper. She remarked that so many Americans she had met during the shuttle coverage had the jitters, were overconcerned about the prospects of the shuttle. And she felt it had been unnecessary for the L.A. Times to have had two correspondents present to cover what turned out to be a routine flight after all.

America has lost its appetite for taking the least risks, she said. She had talked to an Italian space scientist about European plans for space missions. "When we say we're going to go on a particular day, we're going to go," she quoted the Italian as saying.

I observed, Canada waits, while the suicide bombings increase in the world, while terrorists slip into Western countries and while bandits abroad keep raising gas prices. But in the long run Canada, like other countries, may not escape dire consequences, someone will drop an atomic bomb or commit a biological attack, and by then it will be mighty late snd more difficult for the whole world to fight.

That remains to be seen, the Canadians said. And, in any event, they don't want to fall behind an inept leader like George W. Bush. One and all, they didn't think much of him.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Exultation Of Profits Is An American Weakness

Written from Telegraph Creek, BC--

In reaction to my blog suggesting shutting down or selling the Chicago Tribune and putting its value into the L.A. Times, an anonymous comment suggests the Tribune be kept because its profit margin was 29%, while the L.A. Times' was only 18%.

This is why America is sinking, folks. The reason the L.A. Times and the New York Times have been great papers is that the owners were willing to accept a smaller profit margin, so as to insure quality newspapers.

The Chicago Tribune is consistently a mediocre paper, because its owners have cared more about making money than giving their readers a quality product. Soon after the Tribune bought the Times, a Times writer went to Chicago on assignment. He returned to say that after looking at the Tribune, he felt the Times was bound to go down in quality, because the Tribune had no quality.

Profit has its place, and losing money will not keep a paper or any other enterprise going for very long.

But what is a decent profit? The Tribune margin of 29% is an obscene profit, and its owners ought to be thrown in jail, not complimented, for giving their readers short shrift, for treating their inadequately paid staff badly, and for committing positive sins.

The L.A. Times and the NYT provide public service. That's why I say, keep them going. When Times-Mirror was sold to the Tribune Co., it was the moneygrubbing branches of the Chandler family that sold out Los Angeles to the greasy Easterners. And they did it, because money had become more important to them than doing good works.

That disgraceful act should be undone. There can be arguments about it, of course, but the anonymous commentator who says the Tribune makes more money is not a good American. He or she puts profit above quality, and that is a sin. Dante would put this guy or gal in hell and let him or her roast forever.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Another Bland Tribune Executive Interview On Future Of L.A. Times

Written from Telegraph Creek, BC==

Scott Smith. head of Tribune Publishing Services, has given another of these bland, unsatisfactory interviews on the future of the L.A. Times in the Tribune organization.

No, he says, the Times is not for sale. He implies weakly the cost cutting just may be on a weak hold for awhile.

What is necessary?

The Tribune company ought to sell or shut down its weaker papers, like the Chicago Tribune and put the proceeds into the Times.

Los Angelenos ought to be appointed to the Tribune board.

Remaining board members should be given 90 days to move to L.A. and required to live there from now on.

The name of the organization should be changed to Times-Mirror.

The CEO should contribute his salary for the foreseeable future to building up the Times staff and increasing the news hole.

California's state flag should fly over all Tribune properties.

The newly constituted Times-Mirror Board ought to beg forgivness from the people of Los Angeles.

Then, when Scott Smith gives another interview to the Sun Times, he will sound much better, I'm sure.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Oil Close To $65 A Barrel

Written from Whitehorse, The Yukon--

As I drove across the Yukon today, a lead story on Canadian national news was that oil had edged close to $65 a barrel in U.S. money.

This is as big a concern in Canada as it is in the U.S. Canadian gas prices are actually higher than American.

At the same time, President Bush was signing an energy bill that does next to nothing to reduce American reliance on foreign oil.

Something is going to have to give here, and it may be the Republican majority in Congress in the next elections.

What is obvious is that the oil industry and the Arab oil producers write their own ticket these days and the Administration sits there and takes it.

At least the Clinton Administration used the oil deposit reserve to jockey oil prices a little lower. Bush has done nothing with that.

We read that Brazil is using a mixture of half ethanol in many cars. Some argue the energy input to produce ethanol is higher than using gas and not using ethanol. But this ignores the fact that at least the ethanol producers in America are Americans.

It does no good not to confront the oil producers on prices. We need to do so in some way, or see the price continue to rise, ruining our economy and costing the country ever more. We cannot assume the oil producers have good will toward us. Quite the contrary.

This Administration seems strangely quiet when it comes to defending American interests outside the War on Terror. Perhaps, if we did on oil, we could command more support from Europe and elsewhere.

Just some thoughts as I headed toward Telegraph Creek, BC and the Stikine River.

Meanwhile, congratulations to Tom Gorman on becoming a columnist for the Las Vegas paper.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Bears Are Consistently A Big Story In Alaska

Written from Beaver Creek, the Yukon--

Bears and their relationships with human beings aren't a story every day in the Anchorage Daily News, but they are frequently.

In the 38 days, I spent in Alaska, grizzily bears killed one boy in the Kenai Peninsula, south of Anchorage, the killing of a female grizzily with three cubs aroused much controversy, a bear ran into a man on a motorcycle on the Glenn Highway, and bears showed up in great numbers to catch and devour salmon on a stream just outside Anchorage, the state's largest city.

I spent part of my four days at the Camp Denali wilderness lodge reading a book arguing that grizzilies are very intelligent and not as altogether dangerous as many humans think.

Still, in Alaska it is permissible to shoot a grizzily dead in self-defense.

Altogether, Alaska has between 18,000 and 20,000 living grizzilies, and they are apt to turn up unexzpectedly almost anywhere. Also, the state has thousands of black bears and several hundred of the highly dangerous polar bears, which are now threatened by diminishing ice in the Arctic Ocean.

I missed seeing any polar bears, which are not in yet, in Barrow, but I saw seven grizzilies in Denali National Park and two black bears on the shores of Kachemak Bay. This was one of the thrills of my Alaskan trip.

Grizzilies are unpredictable and can kill. But mostly, they will shy away from humans. They are very clever and cunning, and respond violently when attacked. But their most common food is berries and shrubs.

More often, humans are too aggressive toward grizzilies. No one knows who shot and killed the grizzily in Kenai last week, but her cubs were just two years old, may or may not survive, and they got considerable sympathy.

There had been aggressive bears fishing for salmon in the Kenai and, passing through there one evening, I noticed a circus like atmosphere when bears were seen. The highway was clogged, while men, women and children pulled over trying to get a glimpse of the bears.

Bears are not the only environmental focus of Alaska papers. Indeed, Alaskans read a lot more enviornmental news of many kinds than Californians, judging from what I could observe.

California saw its last grizzily in 1929, but at one time, there were 10,000 grizzilies in the state, some on the beach near San Luis Obispo.

Bears help make Alaska so fascinating. Long may they live! I hope to see some on the
Canadian portion of my trip. now just beginning.

No Trip To Alaska Can See Everything, But I Saw A Lot In 38 Days

Written from Fairbanks, Alaska--

The only thing I wish I had done in Alaska that I didn't get a chance to do was to visit the Katmai area, where brown bears akin to the grizzilies abound, snd at this season, are fortifying themselves for winter by dining on as many as 80 salmon a day. The gigantic bears capture the fish themselves by swiping at them as they come up streams to lay their eggs.

The people who get to see this unforgettable sight are those who visit ultra expensive fishing lodges and take the costly flights from Anchorage southwest to the right side of the Cook Inlet. They also can be seen on the remote side of Kodiak island and in some streams elsewhere in the state depending on time. Different varieties of salmon have their runs in various spots at different times.

But in taking the state ferry to Dutch Harbor far out in the Aleutian chain, visiting the Kenai Peninsula for 10 days, staying four days each at two wilderness lodges, flying to Barrow on the Arctic Ocean and visiting the bigger cities of Anchorage and Fairbanks, driving the Alaska Highway, I feel I had a comprehensive Alaska trip, longer in duration than most visitors to the state.

Coming on a cruise up through the southeastern Alaska peninsula, which I had done in 1969, is not as desirable a way to see the state as driving on your own. Many of the cruise lines are too glitzy. Some of the smaller ships, however, are better.

The wilderness lodges are unique experiences in and of themselves, but very expensive. The Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge, on the opposite side of the Kachemak Bay from Homer, run by Diane and Michael McBride, has opulent lodgings and a $2,800 price tag for five days per person. Camp Denali and Northface Lodge in the Denali National Park cost about $400 a day per person. Both have excellent food. Camp Denali has propane lighting in the cabins and collective bathrooms. Its drawback is long bus travel to see the animals in the national park -- grizzily bears (I saw seven), moose, wolves, beavers, cariboo, birds, etc. Kachemak has more of an actual wilderness atmosphere right out its door. I saw two bears there two miles away by boat. Both camps give extensive guiding as part of the cost. If I were to choose between the two, I'd choose Kachemak. although Camp Denali did have the added benefit of lectures by a leading Alaskan, former Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer.

Reservations to the wilderness camps and the ferry to the Aleutians should be made months in advance. Other than that, I had no problem finding good hotels on arrival the day of the visit. I particularly recommend the Regency Hotel in Fairbanks and Westmark Hotels where they can be found in Canada and Alaska. Some Westmarks tend to fill up early, so a reservation a day or two in advance might be advisable there. The best food I had outside the wilderness lodges was at game restaurants in Seward and Anchorage.

The summer weather in most of Alaska is cool. Expect temperatures in the 60s, and some, but not a lot of rain. In the Aleutians and Barrow, it is cooler. Layered clothing is advisable. I wore as many as four jackets and sweaters at a time.

People in Alaska are friendly, outspoken about the environmental and other political issues here, and helpful. There are many small boat trips to the glaciers, so you do not need a full cruise to see those. Indeed, one of the best daily adventures was the small boat cruise out of Seward to the Kenei Fjords National Park. There were only five passengers on this highly individualized tour of nine hours. I also would recommend the Sea Life Research Center outside Seward, the easily accessible Exit Glacier there, and the Laree Animal Research Facility operated by the University of Alaska outside Fairbanks.

Fishing is wonderful in the Aleutians and off the Kenai Peninsula, but getting the fish home safely is another story. One of my two shipments went awry, with Federal Express claiming it had lost the fish for three days at the Oakland Airport, allowing it to spoil, and it was never delivered. The other halibut shipment of 40 pounds reached Orange County safely.

The libraries along the way give free internet access, as do many of the hotels. Hotel and food costs, other than the wilderness camps, tend to be a little higher than home, but not prohibitively so.

The highways are good, with the exception of some highways that are being repaired. These are generally in a dirt, rough state. The highway from Whitehorse in the Yukon to the Alaska border has many of these rough patches. Whitehorse, by the way, is well worth a stop.

Would I recommend Alaska to others? Yes, definitely. I probably will be back myself, health permitting.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Alaskan Poll On Bolton Nomination A Bad Sign For Bush

Written from Fairbanks, Alaska--

A poll released in Alaska tonight is a sign of political trouble for President Bush. When, by a margin of 56% to 43% in this conservative state, voters oppose the recess nomination of John Bolton to the UN Ambassadorship, the Administration ought to take notice.

And it is not inconsistent with other things I've been hearing in my lengthy visit to many parts of this state.

There is an unease with the way things are going in Iraq. A distinction is made by quite a few persons between Iraq and al-Queda. There is more support for fighting the War on Terror and finding Osama bin Laden than the war in Iraq.

This is not only true in the "eco-tourist" destinations, the two wilderness lodges, I've visited, where you would expect the environmentalists to be predominantly Democratic. Most come from outside Alaska anyway.

Ordinary comments by other Alaskans betray a concern that casualties are growing in Iraq and that no decernible progress is being made there. There also is continuing talk about the high price of gasoline. It seems to quite a few people I meet that the Bush Administration has somehow lost its way in the Iraqi war.

Casualties in the war have not been all that common in Alaska, but when they do occur they are on the front pages of even the conservative Anchorage newspaper.

At Camp Denali, a wilderness camp 90 miles into the Denali National Park, last week, they had a former Democratic lieutenant governor of Alaska, Fran Ulmer, there to deliver two evening lectures to the guests. Ulmer's call for more compromise between political parties both in Alaska and Washington seemed to draw common assent.

My Alaska trip began shortly before the attacks on the London transport system, which drew a strong reaction here. But, now, as weeks pass, and Marine and other casualties from suicide bombings seem on the rise, there are decernible shifts in expressed public opinion, and a feeling the Administration has no plan that promises success.

My 37-day visit to the main part of Alaska ends tomorrow and the largely-Canadian portion of the trip, to British Columbia, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories of Canada, begins. The next e-mail will probably be from Beaver Creek, the Yukon, on the Alaska Highway.

Reaching Barrow, Alaska's Northernmost Point

Written from Barrow, Alaska--

On the advice of a dear friend, I traveled here, to the northernmost point on the continent, and it was both a shock and a revelation. This town is predominantly an Eskimo community, and were it not for the annual $1,800 Alaska oil subsidy to each resident, and federal aid, it's difficult to see how they would make ends meet.

The town is absolutely treeless, except for a couple of fake palm trees, and there isn't any grass so far as I can see. Every street is dirt and muddy and everything looks totally ramshackle. In part, it is the permafrost lying just below the surface that causes the lack of pavement and general drab appearance.

I couldn't help but conclude that all these wonderful Arctic articles we run if anything understate these folks' problems. One of the most imposing buildings in town, however, is the federal research facility into global warning.

Nearby, was the fatal 1935 air crash site of Will Rogers and Wylie Post. Also, a cape of sorts leads toward the Arctic ocean. The North Pole is only 1,200 miles away, but it was mostly in the 40s yesterday, and at one moment, the temperature reached 51 degrees.

Alaska is 17% native born in its population, and it is quite a shock to see the contrast in Barrow with the rest of the state. Tijuana looks fancy compared to San Diego compared to Barrow to the rest of Alaska.

Yet the Eskimo dances and songs at the Heritage Center here were excellent and some of the art was terrific as well. I bought a polar bear necklace with a polar bear's claw for my daughter.

The flight here from Fairbanks, the tour and overnight in a hotel cost $565. It certainly is a different Alaska, pretty much reliant on a federal subsidy and the Alaskan oil revenue. This is the reason most of the indigenous population here favors more oil and gas exploitation of the Arctic.

There was no ice on the Arctic ocean and thus no polar bears at this time of year.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Erwin Baker, Perseverent City Hall Reporter, Dies

Written from Fairbanks, Alaska--

This has been a sad week. Following the death Monday of L.A. Times great David Shaw comes word that Erwin Baker, the Times City Hall reporter in the 1960s and 1970s, died today in a care facility in Kanaas City.

Erwin was 86 and in the last few years suffered from Alzheimer's disease. He had to give up playing tennis for the most part, and at one point had ordered his own home phone disconnected, breaking ties with many friends who loved and respected him.

Such are the depredations of old age, because once Erwin was as bright and hardworking a reporter as the Times had. At City Hall, he was a dynamo, inquiring into every facit of city government and known especially for his close ties to City Council President John Gibson and other luminaries. The honest ones. Erwin detested the dishonest and inept officials, of whom he perceived there were quite a few.

Erwin was a stickler for ethics and never ceased to be fascinated by just how much money city officials were spending on trips, just what their ties to lobbyists were, and just who really had influence at City Hall.

Such interests led him into natural conflict with that "real" corrupt old fart, Mayor Sam Yorty, and I do not use that term with the pleasant connotation it has for us today. Erwin realized early on that Yorty was an unscrupulous demagogue who never failed to promote his own and cronies' interests, in the 1969 mayoral campaign descending to racism to turn back the challenge of Tom Bradley.

As a political writer, I coordinated with Erwin on many stories, but none more important than one detailing how Yorty had spent 372 days of his third term out of the city, gallivanting around the world, at public expense.

When that story broke during Yorty's bid for a fourth term, the Encyclopedia Britannica happened to be doing a film on a day in the lives of two reporters. The subjects were Erwin and me, and the story line featured that report and Yorty's hamhanded reaction to it.

Erwin and I were delighted. We played our roles with gusto, questioning Yorty at a news conference, and the film played in the public schools for years. Meanwhile, Bradley swept by Yorty in ihe election and Yorty wallowed in retirement. He went on a cruise rather than graciously showing up at Bradley's inauguration.

Erwin was a good friend of Bill Boyarsky. The two often played tennis, and they made a great team at City Hall until Baker retired. He had a heart condition and his ensuing years were quiet ones, until, at his 80th birthday party, at a West Side hotel, he confided sadly that his memory was failing. The party was held close to Erwin's other great love in life, besides his two daughters, UCLA. We constantly kidded Erwin about his allegiance to UCLA.

Erwin was a great companion of mine. He was always encouraging about my career at the Times and a backer on occasions when I needed backing. I remember him with the greatest fondness.

Two fine colleagues in one week. I'm flying to Barrow tomorrow, and I hope it's a safe trip. (smile). Meanwhile, I'm going to miss attending the services for David and Erwin.

Meanwhile, if I had to write an epitaph for the old City Hall reporter, it would be, "He hated corruption, and was able to do something about it."


Friday, August 05, 2005

A Memorial To David Shaw

Written from Denali National Park, Alaska--

This is a little late because I've been at a wilderness camp in Denali National Park and had no Internet access to immediately pay tribute to a great friend and distinguished colleague, David Shaw.

David was one of the finest reporters of this era at the Los Angeles Times. You didn't have to agree with him on everything to realize that his contributions to the paper and to life in Los Angeles were unequaled.

For many years, David was the media critic of the Los Angeles Times, winning a Pulitzer Prize for that criticism in 1991. Fiercely independent, he put tremendous efforts into each of scores of long stories examining American journalism from every angle. Particularly distinguished were his pieces on abortion coverage, the McMartin school abuse case, the use of confidential sources, the efforts of other newspapers and the Times. He had the support and encouragement of Bill Thomas and Otis Chandler, making his work one of a kind.

In the 1999-2000 Staples crisis that ultimately destroyed the reign of Mark Willes as Times-Mirror CEO and resulted in the sale of the Times to the Tribune Co., David was chosen to write the definitive piece for the Times on the mess, and under the editorship of George Cotliar, retired managing editor, did a superlative job. David's coverage specifically reflected on both Willes and Times editor Michael Parks. Parks, I believe, would have been an outstanding managing editor, but lacked some of the skills he needed as editor in this critical situation. Shaw's piece will long be remembered as outstanding.

Later, under Tribune ownership, David shifted to a column on the media that ran in Calendar weekly, and also wrote for the Food section periodically on food and wine.

No one who went to such countries as France and Spain could wisely do so without asking for David's advice on restaurants. He knew the most expensive and the best values. The restaurants he touted were fabulous and David could easily have been, in my view, the world's most distinguished fulltime restaurant critic, except that he said he didn't want this, because it would have forced him to go to some bad restaurants. David could never understand why people even visited countries not distinguished for their food. In 1987, when I took my children to Australia, David remarked to me he couldn't understand the trip, because Australian food wasn't the best.

David's recommendations of restaurants in Spain, particularly in Barcelona, were followed, to our delight, by my son and I on a trip there, and we especially enjoyed a Tapas place called Ca Pepe, near the Picasso Museum. Later, I recommended it to many friends going to Barcelona and all who went there were delighted. When my mother had her 80th birthday, we picked a Los Angeles restaurant for the party that David had recommended.

But David was great not only on the great restaurants, but on such lousy food offerings as those at Dodger Stadium. His article on Dodger Stadium food was a masterpiece.

The first article by David I ever read was a tremendous piece on a Jesse Unruh campaign for the Long Beach Press Telegram. He would have been a distinguished political writer had he wanted. He had wonderful talents in so many areas. His personality did not find favor with some, but all in all, I believe he came to deserve all the admiration he customarily received.

There were times, as I said, when I disagreed with David, such as on confidential sources, but I always respected him as a great reporter.

And you had to like a man who felt strongly about so many things, including his love for Ellen Torgerson, her children, and others.

David died too young last Monday night at 62. When he first learned he had a brain tumor, just three months before, he had hoped it could be corrected. He told me that he hoped every day to return to work and continue his articles. Later, before I left on my Alaskan trip, his last message to me was that his doctors had found the tumor was faster growing and more dangerous than they had first thought. David was disappointed, but had not lost hope.

I responded that I would pray for David and keep him in my mind every day.

And that will be so for a long time. Journalism needs the David Shaws, who work so hard for so long, who never lose their interest, their focus, and their dedication to the public. David ran the course as one of the great members of the Times staff.


Monday, August 01, 2005

British Terrorist Search Runs Afoul Of Italian Excuses

Written from Denali National Park, Alaska--

If someone jokes that he has a bomb in his luggage, it is still considered a serious offense, and some have received comparatively long jail terms, indeed as long as five years, for this offense.

Yet a mysterious Muslim seized in Italy, in the British search for would-be bombers in the London subways, is fighting extradition on grounds he and his cohorts in the abortive subway bombing of July 21 didn't really mean to kill anyone. They were simply trying to send the British a message, following up on the July 7 bombings that killed 56 persons, says Hussein Osman.

And, as usual, the weak Italian justice system is listening. There will now be months of hearings before Italian courts decide what to do with the British extradition request.

Even the offense Osman has admitted to is a very serious one. It is clear there is a plot to weaken the resolve of the British, and after 56 deaths, all threats to the subways obviously will spread fear.

But like many Muslim fundamentalists accused of terrorism, Osman is a thrice-proven liar. Nothing he says should necessarily be taken as true.

First, he told the British he was from Somalia, then from Ethiopia, now from someplace elwe. He has given false names.

And Osman, it turns out, went with a fellow-conspirator to Saudi Arabia, a little trip he held in common with some of the hijack conspirators of 9-11 in the U.S., some of whom were Saudis.

The safest thing to do with Osman and others who are "fooling around," playing such "jokes," is to treat them as dire threats who will be responsible if there are future injuries in Britain and other countries.

They should be imprisoned for a long time as a warning to others. It is time for countries like Italy to stiffen up, show a little resolve. Events and experience have shown we can't be easy with these people who always claim innocence or relative innocence.