Sunday, December 31, 2006

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Is Scoundrel Of The Year

In the grim year that was 2006, no figure behaved more provocatively and fundamentally out of accord with humanitarian values than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran. He is my choice for "Scoundrel of the Year."

Adverse results in local Iranian elections in December, and demonstrations against him by students in Tehran again cast doubt on the legitimacy of Ahmadinejad's election in the first place in 2005. That election may well have been stolen, and apparently there are powerful elements in Iran opposed to him.

But, still, he confirmed many times during the year that he is a sinister and threatening figure.

Iran's determination to defy world opinion and proceed with development of its nuclear capability profoundly disturbed many countries, but, as in the past, the United Nations showed it was incapable of taking firm action that would preserve the peace. The Security Council passed a weak sanctions resolution, but Iran immediately defied it. Russia in this case stood in the way of definitive international action to change Iran's course.

Ahmadinejad unquestionably has the support of the Mullahs who dominate Iran for his nuclear policy. But there is some question whether he has their total support for his repeated calls to "wipe Israel off the map" and his questioning whether the World War II Holocaust, the murder of millions of Jews by the Nazis, ever took place.

We have learned in the past that when psychopaths conspire to do evil, they often telegraph their intentions by provocative language. So Ahmadinejad's threats cannot simply be dismissed as fulminations without much chance of ever being implemented. Should Ahmadinejad actually get the chance to wipe out Israel, if Iran does succeed in acquiring nuclear weapons, he could well try to do it, even if Israel's own nuclear retaliatory capacity could lead to the destruction of Iran in the process.

Ahmadinejad's sincerity is demonstrated by Iran's support of Hezbollah, its conspiring to overturn the legally elected Siniora government in Lebanon, its backing for Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank and its support for extremist Shiites involved in sectarian murders in Iraq.

Iran, fortunately, does not have the power or skills of Nazi Germany, but the Ahmadinejad regime is the closest thing we have seen in the world since the Nazis were crushed in 1945.

This will be a continuing challenge to the world, unless the opposition in Iran gains power, or other means are used to remove Ahmadinejad from his present position.

In the last couple of days, I've chosen Dean Baquet, ousted editor of the Los Angeles Times, as journalist of the year, Time magazine reporter Michael Duffy as mistaken journalist of the year, and the victims of sectarian murders in Iraq as persons of the year. These choices, I believe, represent the significant trends of 2006.

Hopefully, 2007 will be a better year. Let's all take resolutions to help bring that about.
So, everyone, Happy New Year.


Saturday, December 30, 2006

Persons Of The Year Are Victims Of The Iraq War

There is no getting away from the fact that this has been a grim year. And I think there's no way of ignoring the most striking victims of the year.

These, unquestionably in my view, are the victims of the sectarian violence in Iraq, the Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and the Christian minority there as well, who have been wounded, tortured and murdered in the brutal acts ripping through that country. They are the Persons of the Year.

For the world community, and for the United States, the priority in 2007 must be ending that violence and bringing some peace to that country.

But I persist in believing that we must persevere in our involvement there. We cannot withdraw our troops from Iraq now and leave the country to even worse internecine violence and the prospect that it would spread out of Iraq. We cannot count on the United Nations, so often having failed to stop genocide, to come in to sort things out. Our troops, contrary to what many Americans seem to believe, are among the few honest brokers in Iraq. They are trying to curtail the violence and build a more humane government and their mission must continue.

Some times in history, it is not the actors, but the acted upon, who crystalize the developments taking place. The year 2006 was one of those times. Events were in the saddle and it was not so much the perpetrators of the violence, religious fanatics of one kind or another and simple psychopaths who enjoy torturing and killing, as the victims of it who were at the center of events.

Now, we can only pray for the souls of the dead, and work to preserve the lives of those still living, especially those living in the stricken neighborhoods of Baghdad and other parts of Iraq. We must make 2007 a better year for those still alive than 2006 was.


Friday, December 29, 2006

Dean Baquet Is Journalist Of The Year; Michael Duffy Of Time Mistaken Journalist Of Year

After due reflection, I believe Dean Baquet, who took a courageous stand for the continued greatness of his newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, and got fired for it as editor by the usurping publisher, David Hiller, is the Journalist of the Year.

As soon as Hiller is removed back to Chicago by a new Times owner, should that blessed event take place, Baquet may be restored to his position. At least, we can all hope so.

A less honorable designation as the journalist who made the worst mistake of the year in his writings goes to Michael Duffy of Time magazine, who incorrectly predicted in a Dec. 11 cover story that President George W. Bush would make a "u-turn" in his Iraqi policies as a result of the Baker Commission report on conduct of the war. Duffy, pretending to know something he did not, compared the projected u-turn to Bush's earlier decision in life to quit drinking.

It was only one instance of Time adopting a policy of appeasement toward barbaric terrorists and a weak position on the life-and-death issues confronting the Middle East and the world. Richard Stengel, Time's new managing editor, was accessory to Duffy's false reporting.

Unfortunately, journalism is not always letter-perfect, that goes without saying.

But Baquet, as the L.A. Times editor who succeeded John Carroll, came close, as he consistently adhered to a principled stand against further cost cutting and layoffs directed by the Tribune Co., supervised by such members of an "axis of stupidity" as Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons, and executives Scott Smith, James O'Shea and Hiller.

Even after Hiller replaced the honorable Jeff Johnson as publisher of the Times (Johnson had also publicly opposed the vile cost cutters) and not so subtly threatened Baquet, the courageous editor still appeared at a New Orleans convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and declared in a memorable speech that editors had a duty to resist cost cutting.

It was a difficult year in the newspaper business, but Baquet spoke with the full knowledge that many newspaper profit margins, including the L.A. Times, remained above 20%.

What a contrast with the greed and power-grabbing marked in FitzSimons' and Hiller's positions.

2006 was, temporarily, Hiller's chance for a few squalid minutes. We can hope that 2007 will be Baquet's return to his editorship and many glorious hours.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Islamic Fundamentalists Ousted From Mogadishu With Unexpected Ease

It has only taken a few days for Ethiopian troops, backing indigenous Somali non-Islamists, to oust the Islamic fascist regime from Mogadishu, the Somalian capital, and one thing this demonstrates is that the fundamentalists may not be as strong as commonly perceived.

There are reports this morning of joy in the streets of Somalian cities, as a regime which had executed some persons for watching international soccer, and threatened to execute others who weren't praying five times a day, is sent fleeing. Its foreign fighters imported to fight the war have disbanded in confusion. Some may have been caught on the high seas this morning by that sterling institution, the Yemeni Navy.

The Islamists also recruited hundreds of junior high and high school students to fight their battles. These units could not stand up against the Ethiopian army for more than a day or two.

When we observe such a fast unraveling of what had been viewed as a threatening force, one wonders just how strong fundamentalism is. It could be, under the right circumstances in other countries, the Islamist forces would also collapse quickly with a little push.

Citizens in the Middle East, along with those in the horn of Africa, could well be delighted to see such an onerous religious regimen ousted, and a simple forceful declaration that such practices as the enslavement of women, frequent executions by beheading, and bans on all drinking and gambling, will no longer be permitted, might well prove availing.

Why is Iraq so difficult, then? Why have things gone from bad to worse in that benighted country?

It has to be the sectarian divisions which have been allowed to fester, pitting one ethnic group against another, Sunnis vs. Shiites, and so forth. Finding a solution to these could well spell a rapid decrease in the ongoing violence.

In this context, I wonder whether not permitting Saddam Hussein to be executed might help facilitate a settlement. If indeed he has supporters in any number of the Sunni population, could sparing him assuage their feelings without arousing too much the Shiites? Could a commutation to, say, life imprisonment, not soothe such feelings, and if so, isn't it worth trying?

In Iran, too, there have been recent signs of the public being fed up with the excesses of the ruling mullahs and their handmaiden, the fanatical Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad was dealt a setback in local elections and booed by students at a university. It could be that the right shove here, as in Somalia, would lead to a quick unraveling of the ruling regime.

Lawrence Wright, in his recent book, "The Looming Tower," about the origins of al-Qaeda, suggests that its adherents hold such extreme views, and are so inclined to internecine warfare, that the whole Nazi-like apparatus could, at some point, come tumbling down.

It is such prospects that convince me that the cut-and-runners in Washington, Sens. Kerry, Levin and Biden among others, not to mention the weak-kneed Washington press corps, are mistaken and that, if we fight on, success might be in the offing, just as has happened in Somalia.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ford's Career Shows Reporters Can Be Wrong

Gerald Ford, who died Tuesday night at his home in Rancho Mirage, was an example how political reporters can be mistaken about major personalities and events in politics at the cost of the personalities themselves.

Most political writers, of whom I was one, felt Mr. Ford lacked intellect and was chosen for the vice presidency by Richard Nixon when Spiro Agnew resigned in disgrace as a kind of guarantee that Mr. Nixon himself would not be removed.

This assessment of Mr. Nixon's reasoning may have been correct, but after the Watergate scandal intensified, Mr. Nixon was forced out, and Mr. Ford became President, the view that the new president was without intellect proved overstated in its importance.

With the advantage of hindsight, we can see now that he made the right decision when he pardoned Mr. Nixon, because it made Watergate history and spared the country the spectacle of putting a former president on trial. Instinctively, it was the right thing to do. But at the time, many political writers, including myself, thought it was a mistake. It may have ultimately cost Mr. Ford the 1976 election and also led, here in California to the victory of Democrat Jerry Brown over Republican Houston Flournoy for governor. But years later, the Kennedy Library awarded Mr. Ford a prize for his courage in granting the pardon, and Sen. Edward Kennedy confessed he had been mistaken to have opposed it.

The often-goofy L.A. Times editorial page as late as this morning said it would have been better to let the legal process go forward on Mr. Nixon, but this is not the common view today.

If I had been asked in 1976 who would make the better President for the next four years, I would certainly have said Mr. Carter. After all, I was covering the Carter campaign, and very favorably. Now, I feel in retrospect I went too easy on him.

As it turned out, Mr. Ford was a better President than Mr. Carter. He may not have scored as highly on an I.Q. test, but his instincts were good on the great issues, and he had more of a sense of command than Mr. Carter. He knew better how to prioritize, and even to inspire the country. His staff was superior.

Mr. Ford was in office in 1975 when the U.S. finally abandoned the fruitless Vietnam war enterprise and withdrew from the Southeast Asian country without devastating strategic consequences.

But when Cambodian Communists soon thereafter seized the unarmed American container ship Mayaguez and its crew, Mr. Ford quickly showed that American forbearance had its limits. He ordered the U.S. military to attack Cambodia, and the ship and crew were quickly released. Had Mr. Carter adopted the same policy in the Iranian seizure of American hostages in Tehran four years later, the outcome of that crisis might have been different and terrible subsequent events in Afghanistan and the Middle East avoided.

I now feel the press put entirely too much emphasis on Mr. Ford's perceived ineptitude and occasional awkwardness. His mistakes, such as his denial in a debate with Mr. Carter that Poland was under Soviet subjugation, turned out fairly inconsequential. Mr. Carter's mistakes were far more destructive.

My own most personal memory of Mr. Ford came from an episode in 1980 when I went to Rancho Mirage to interview him about the possibility that he might thrust himself into the 1980 presidential race, (which he decided wisely not to do).

I took my son, David, then five years old with me, and David threw up all over the rug in Mr. Ford's office. The former president was visibly disturbed, but the interview went on successfully.

Mr. Ford was always a gentleman, if a partisan one. We can all view him today with fondness and respect.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Proportional Representation Breeds Confusion

The L.A. Times, in a lead article of the California section Monday by Nancy Vogel, seems to tout an "instant runoff" voting system that allows proportional representation in elected bodies in the few places in the U.S. which have tried it--Davis, Calif., Minneapolis and Pierce County, Washington.

This is a way of giving voting minorities some representation. Ultimately, let's say, 51% vote for a majority candidate. A second-choice candidate who got 49% could under some circumstances still be elected.

But in countries where proportional representation, rather than winner-take-all, systems have been tried, like Fourth Republic France or Israel, the result has been to destroy the two-party system and allow both a plethora of political parties and, often, only poorly focused coalition government.

That system ultimately destroyed the Fourth Republic and has impeded Israel from adopting definite policies, possibly compounding Middle Eastern problems.

The founding fathers in America, it is true, did not contemplate the development of political parties. But such parties seem to be inevitable in democracies, and then the question becomes whether the system of voting facilitates a clear decision at election time.

Great Britain, like the U.S., has a winner-take-all system in separate districts which tends to magnify the disparities in results. So, say, the Labor party in Britain may get only 43% of the total vote, the Tories 38% and the Liberals 19%. But that may leave the Labor party with a solid majority of the elected seats in parliament, and the Liberals with very few.

It's said by some theorists that this is unfair to third parties such as the Liberals. But it does have the effect of electing definite majority governments, able to act.

The Times article probably should have put the issue in more context. Then this might not have seemed such a fruitful reform, although Vogel did make it clear she was mainly talking about at-large elections for city councils and so forth, not single contests such as for mayor or district attorney.

The essential thing to realize is that the American system of winner-take-all has worked fairly well for more than two centuries. The only exception is the electoral vote system in presidential elections, which sometimes has produced a winner with fewer popular votes than the loser, as in the 2000 election, when George W. Bush defeated Albert Gore. This, however, is somewhat of a separate issue.


Monday, December 25, 2006

It's Too Early To Say Iraq Has Destroyed Bush's Legacy, As Sonni Efron Did

There seems to be a large element of the Washington press corps which feels that the war is all over, the U.S. has lost, and, in Sonni Efron's words in a Current article Sunday in the L.A. Times, "Iraq has destroyed the Bush legacy."


This Administration has two years to run, it is reshaping its war plan, and, meanwhile, the war with the Islamic fundamentalists is spreading to new areas, such as East Africa, and the ultimate result, at this point, is incalculable.

I'm sure, when Gen. de Gaulle flew to England on June 18, 1940, that Hitler thought that that war was over and France irrevocably defeated. Yet four years later, de Gaulle was triumphantly back in Paris. It turned out he had powerful allies -- England, America and Russia.

The funny thing is the press, just as in the American Civil War, is more anxious to write defeat all over the American story than the political opposition. We've scarcely heard a peep out of the Democrats since they won control of Congress in the mid-term elections. They are not united on what to do. Yet there is a steady drum fire from the press that the Bush Administration ought to admit defeat, kowtow to the Baker Commission and with them to the Iranians and Syrians. Time magazine is particularly guilty of this, but it is seen all over Washington. There's never any institution more willing to throw in the towel than the press corps.

In Efron's article, she seems to have felt that Paul Wolfowitz, an early architect of the Iraq war plan along with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld, should have come groveling to her feet and begged forgiveness to the American people, and she is positively insulted that he wouldn't be interviewed (even though he sent her an explanatory e-mail).

Yes, Wolfowitz was much too optimistic about the course the invasion of Iraq would take. But he is no longer among those in charge of the war effort. Robert Gates is the new defense secretary, and he remarked appropriately last week that failure in Iraq would prove to have devastating consequences for America. He's clearly determined not to let it happen.

What are the simple facts of the present situation?

A virulent fascism is sweeping over the Middle East, and the violence is spreading. American allies in Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Afghanistan and even India are expressing great concern about any sign of an American withdrawal from the fight against it.

Yet President Bush has declared repeatedly America will not withdraw. It's just that the journalists like Efron won't believe in his determination or sincerity.

Well, they ought to become more alert. The war is going to proceed. In fact, it is going to be stepped up. And the ultimate results, at this point, are not preordained.

In fact, in various places, the U.S. seems to have more allies than it did a couple of years ago. Several NATO countries are now fighting with our forces in Afghanistan. A number of European countries are joining with us in a naval buildup in the Persian Gulf, announced just last week. The Saudi Arabian government and the Gulf States are financing an armed opposition to the Hezbollah Shiites in Lebanon, as reported by the L.A. Times correspondent there, Megan Stack.. Ethiopia has begun air attacks on the Somali Islamists.

The war is growing. We have not yet been defeated. It's too early to be so confident we will be.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Call For Nominations For Persons and Scoundrels Of The Year

Having not been impressed with Time magazine's selections, I've decided to name my own Person-of-the-Year, and will add, on other days at the end of this week, a scoundrel-of-the-year (there may be two of these). There also will be categories of journalist-of-the-year and mistaken-journalist-of-the-year, for those who got it most right and most wrong.

This is a call for suggestions, nominations or what-have-you. I will certainly give due consideration to the urgings of others, if there are any. You can enter these as comments to this blog or other messages.


The War on Terror continues to spread today with Ethiopian air attacks against Somali Islamic fascists and their foreign supporters. While the Ethiopian government says it could wipe out the Islamists in Mogadishu in a week or two, the actual prospect is for bitter and lasting fighting.

So far, there has been no good article about the strength of Ethiopian forces, and particularly the Ethiopian air force.

However, it is clear that the U.S. is implicated. Just recently, the U.S. Middle East commander, Gen. John Abizaid, was reported to have flown to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, to confer with members of the government, and there can be little doubt that the U.S. will tacitly back the Ethiopians, even while seeking to prevent a spread of war to Kenya and other countries.

Another question is whether the U.S. and other Western navies should impose a naval blockade on the Somali coast to prevent reinforcement from such countries as Pakistan. A dispatch on the wire this morning says 250 Pakistanis have already been casualties of fighting near Baidoa, a stronghold of the so-called Somali government (non-Islamist).

Islamic fascists, backed both by Iran and al-Qaeda have steadily become more active in the Sudan, where their struggle is against black African Muslims, and Somalia, where an Islamic takeover in Mogadishu has been followed by reports of executions of people for the high crime of watching international soccer on television. The Islamists have been moving outward, grabbing more Somali territory and threatening Ethiopia. Eritrea, with its enmity to Ethiopia, is also believed backing the Somalis.

What is happening is that Islamists are trying to move into vacuums, where the West has not been active. The same is true in northern Pakistan, where the Musharraf government has retreated and al-Qaeda has established a base to wage war against American and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

While some in Washington look for a way out of the Middle Eastern and African conflicts, it becomes clearer and clearer that there is no real way out. Where we retreat, unsavory Islamic fundamentalists will advance.


Saturday, December 23, 2006

John Balzar And Alissa Rubin Leave The L.A. Times

Under the usurpers, David Hiller and James O'Shea, and the overall direction of the inept Dennis FitzSimons, all part of the Tribune Company's "axis of stupidity," we have to face the sad fact that talent will continue to drain away from the L.A. Times. Not until the paper is out of limbo and under new ownership, is there a good chance for revival.

The latest noteworthy departures are John Balzar and Alissa Rubin. Balzar is leaving after a distinguished career at the Times to become communications director for the Humane Society of the United States, and Rubin elected to drop her post as Paris bureau chief to return to Baghdad for the New York Times.

A less noteworthy departure is Rick Wartzman, who has been mediocre both as editor of the Business section and West magazine. He's the kind of loss the newspaper can live with, despite reports that West magazine may be cut back, just as other sections of the paper. Can we ever expect anything else from the squalid Tribune Co?

Balzar is circumspect about his departure, writing in an -e-mail, "Down the road, I may find the right opening to speak my mind about events that have taken such a toll on my colleagues, my community and what has been my craft for so long."

But I certainly hope, on his way out the door, Balzar will pause to give Hiller, the new publisher, a punch in the nose. This is what Dean Baquet should have done when Hiller fired him, but it is not too late for other staff members to step into the breach. If Hiller were to receive every punch he deserves as a sellout to corporate interests, he would be black and blue all over. The life of this Harvard Law School graduate is a shambles.

Balzar has had many great assignments for the L.A. Times, ranging from covering the dog races in Alaska to California and national politics, to stepping into the breach in East Africa in the wake of the Rwanda genocide.

We can all wish him well. And the same for Rubin. Let's face it, Paris for the L.A. Times under the Tribune Co., is no match for Baghdad for the New York Times. The food is better in Baghdad, and certainly the local President more estimable than Jacques Chirac.

For Hiller, O'Shea and FitzSimons, let's repeat the refrain, SELL THE PAPER AND DO IT NOW. And the Baltimore Sun, Newsday et. al. as well. No end to Tribune can come too soon. Its Chicago holdings do not need to be sold, but, preferably closed down. Chicago needs neither the Tribune nor the Cubs and they are not the kind of enterprises which would do credit to any other city.


Friday, December 22, 2006

Schwarzenegger Ought To Fire Susan Kennedy

If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger were as honest a political figure as he claims to be, he would have fired his corrupt executive secretary, Susan Kennedy, a long time ago.

Kennedy appeared in two separate stories on Page 1 of the L.A. Times California section yesterday as engaged in crooked deals. Together, the reports constituted a double whammy against a lady who has long dishonored high staff positions.

The lead story, by Jenifer Warren, quotes two former chiefs of the California prison system as testifying in federal court that moves orchestrated by Kennedy, cow towing to the notorious prison guards union, had stymied their efforts to reform the state's crisis-ridden prison situation.

It was Kennedy's vow to take a hand in negotiating the prison guards' contract in the middle of last year's Schwarzenegger reelection campaign that tipped off the prison chiefs that the guards would hold a veto power over badly needed changes. Both stepped down from their jobs.

(The day after this was posted, the L.A. Times reported in a Page 1 story that under a contract signed in the Gray Davis governorship, 6,000 guards are receiving compensation of more than $100,000 due to overtime pay. Kennedy was corrupting other fields in the Davis administration, but unfortunately the Schwarzenegger Administration has toadied to the guards as well. They are treated far better than the state's teachers, to the disgrace of both the Davis and Schwarzenegger administrations).

In a second story on the same page as the original prison story, Jordan Rau reports that Kennedy, who ran roughshod on consumer interests on behalf of the big utilities, when she was a Davis-appointee on the Public Utilities Commission, now is seeking the appointment of another utilities' stooge, Rachelle Chong, to that same commission.

Kennedy has now worked for three leading California officials, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Governors Davis and Schwarzenegger, and made all of them less than they were. She is a black mark on all three, although, in justice to Feinstein, the full corruption of Kennedy was not evident when she worked for her.

Kennedy's specialty is catering to special interests, as a means of inducing campaign contributions, and she seldom sees one she doesn't like.

Some people in government rove from one commission to another, from one malfeasance to another, and Kennedy has certainly proved herself to be one of them.

Outgoing PUC Commissioner Geoffrey Brown describes that commission as "routinely deferential" to the industry it is supposed to be regulating, while consumers continue to pay outrageous rates.

In the prison inquiry, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson has limited the scope of the investigation, declining pleas that he call Kennedy and former Schwarzenegger Cabinet Secretary Fred Agular to testify, despite the findings of a special master that they had conspired to let the prison guards union block reform efforts in an apparent move to insure their campaign contributions to Schwarzenegger.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Boycott Macy's, Push Hiller, On Overly-Intrusive Ads In L.A. Times

Henry Adams once declared, "You can't use tact with a Congressman; you have to take a stick and hit him in the snout."

The same thing could be said of both the Macy's department store chain, and David Hiller, the usurper who has been made publisher of the L.A. Times. They both require rude treatment.

This morning, again, we see Macy's ad wrap arounds defacing two sections of the newspaper. These are more than a little annoying. It requires ripping them off and dumping them in the trash, before you can get to the news in the newspaper, and it is a sign that the ugly Hiller will do anything to make an extra dollar, even sacrifice readers' interests.

As I've noted before, Macy's is a second rate chain. It has replaced in Los Angeles such worthy stores as Broadway and I. Magnin's. It offers little quality merchandise, and I haven't shopped at any Macy's store in years.

That's why it has to try any expedient to come to the reader's attention in its ads. The average person of good taste would never walk into a Macy's. He or she would go to Nordstrom's, Bloomingdale's or other higher class stores instead.

Now, given its perseverance in defacing the Times, Macy's ought to be subject to a buyer's boycott. No one should shop there, until it ceases to annoy with its ads. Then, maybe it would be worthwhile to go there for cheap, less-than-desirable goods.

As for Hiller, as I've suggested before, he should be encouraged to quit his post and leave Los Angeles. Either of the former publishers, John Puerner or Jeff Johnson, would be better in the job he now holds. I know Johnson initially allowed the wrap around ads, but, as time went on, he became more sensitized to reader concerns, opposed further cost cutting by the idiots in Chicago, and was relieved for his pains.

What could Hiller do next, if he were to step down? He could haul Macy's trash, or return to Chicago and become a copy messenger at the Chicago Tribune. Or since he was trained at Harvard Law School, he could, gasp, become a lawyer. That's assuming he could pass the bar. As a last resort, he could go to work as a gofer for his old friend, Clinton persecutor Ken Starr. These men deserve each other. The thought of Hiller cleaning out the restroom for Starr enthuses me.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Biddy of Santa Barbara, Wendy McCaw, Strikes Again

The news that Wendy McCaw, the Dennis FitzSimons seem-alike at the Santa Barbara News-Press, is suing a reporter who dared to write adversely about her depredations at her newspaper demonstrates once again that some corporate managers and owners never learn.

Ms. McCaw might, if she showed good judgement, desist a bit, wish everyone happy holidays and put herself out to pasture by putting the newspaper up for sale. If she was appropriately ashamed of her conduct, she could give it away.

But, like FitzSimons, she tries to hold on, and in the process she is digging a deeper hole for herself and her newspaper.

McCaw has a ways to go yet to match FitzSimons. She got rid of just one editor and publisher. At the L.A. Times, FitzSimons has been responsible for the demise of two of each. Plus, of course, he has moved to do in the fortunes of the Baltimore Sun, Newsday, the Hartford Courant and lesser properties, such as the perennial losers, the Chicago Cubs, representative of a city that just can't compete qualitywise with the big boys.

Meanwhile, Dean Baquet, the latest editor pushed out at the Times, is not going away quietly. He's quoted in the New York Observer, where he was named "Mensch of the year," as saying it's important to recognize a newspaper is more than a business.

New pressure must be bought against McCaw and FitzSimons, who can't seem to realize that the more they cut back, the less readers think of their newspapers and the less they are inclined to read them. So circulation falls, advertising falls, and ultimately, there will be nothing left.

Unless, of course, they realize they have no talents to run newspapers, and get out of journalism. They should take a resolution to do so in 2007.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

In Principle, Bush Is Right To Want To Increase Size Of Army And Marines

In an interview with the Washington Post, President Bush says he has concluded the size of both the U.S. Army and Marines should be increased, and will ask the new Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, to come up with a plan.

This should have been done months, if not years, ago. One of Donald Rumsfeld's shortcomings as defense secretary was his unwillingness to contemplate such a move.

It has been a foolhardy policy to try and wage war in Iraq with a combination of active duty, reserve and national guard troops. The smaller numbers in the American military, as compared with those available in the Vietnam war. (1.4 million now, as compared with more than 3 million then) has led to a system of frequent rotations of troops, exposed them to all the hardships this entails, including family and psychological stresses, and has impeded the country from following an effective war strategy.

Don't get me wrong. War always causes stresses and the people who lose their lives, of course, lose everything. But it has become the case in Iraq that many enlisted men and officers have served two, three or even more separate tours of duty, leading some who otherwise would stay in the Service, to leave and compounding many personal problems.

It has also necessitated calling many more reserves and national guard troops than would normally be used in such a conflict. And it has contributed to an unwillingness to have sufficient troops on hand in Iraq to get the job done.

Mr. Bush still is putting off announcement of a new plan to fight the war, and he is not saying here that he has decided to increase the number of troops, even with the "surge" of 20,000 to 50,000 more troops sometimes suggested.

But even at the present rates of deployment, under 150,000 at a time, the Army and Marine Corps has been so small that repeated deployments were inevitable.

This is going to be expensive, no doubt about it, and some adjustments in taxes might well be merited. The President has probably been too devoted to keeping taxes, particularly estate taxes and capital gains, too low anyway.

But it does not foreshadow a return of the military draft. There is little support available for such a move, and it is not necessary in order to have a draft to increase the size of the military by a few thousand, which is all that's contemplated for the moment. Recruitment of volunteers has been sufficient in the past and will be for the foreseeable future.

In his Post interview, the President has outlined the beginnings of a more sound military policy, regardless whether he does go through with an increase in troop levels in Iraq.


Monday, December 18, 2006

The Inept CEO, Dennis FitzSimons, May Be Plotting To Keep Control of the L.A. Times

I have, I think quite generously and in understated language, called Dennis FitzSimons, the CEO of the Tribune Co., head of an "axis of stupidity." All you have to do is look at his photo in the Business section of today's L.A. Times to realize he is not very bright. He has that wide-eyed stare of the very ignorant.

In any case, here is a man who has been in control of one of the nation's great newspapers, the L.A. Times, but has been responsible for driving the newspaper into the ground, foolishly cutting it back every way he could think of, and has therefore presided over a declining stock price and has come under pressure to sell out, and take his lack of talent elsewhere.

But, judging from Jim Rainey's story in the Times this morning, FitzSimons seems to want to hold on.

This is a little like Mussolini holding on. The Italian dictator hung on so long he ended up dangling feet up and dead as a door nail, the victim of his outraged fellow countrymen. I certainly wish a better fate for FitzSimons. If he clears out now, he can take a golden parachute and go home and live with his family, where he probably would do less harm than he has up to now.

But, according to Rainey, as the Chandler family desperately tries to recoup its fortunes from its dramatically dumb move in 2000 to sell Times-Mirror to the Tribune Co., with perhaps its own offer to buy back parts of the company, FitzSimons is working with Wall Street investment firms on a leveraged buyout of the Tribune Co.

Here's a man who's too blind to know what a fool he's been or how poor his prospects are.

Under FitzSimons, there's no way this company, and all its newspapers and tv stations, to go but down. If he succeeds in holding on, not only the L.A. Times, but all his enterprises will be wrecked.

David Geffen, the entertainment mogul, has made a perfectly-sound, all cash offer for the Times. If FitzSimons had any smarts at all, he would take it.

But we all know he has no smarts.

This is a sad story -- how the most inept, screwy managers maintain themselves.

I think it's time for the U.S. Justice Department to get involved, so that an investigation might push FitzSimons into a sale, before he blunders so badly he has to follow Enron executives, such as Jeffrey Skilling, into a longtime jail term.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Time Magazine Cops Out Again On Its Person-Of-The Year

New York Times columnist David Brooks writes this Sunday, "The folks at Time are crazy, if they don't name Nasrallah, Ahmadinejad and Sadr people of the year." He explains, "2006, let it be said, felt to many like the year of losing ground. There was a general sense that the forces of moderation in the Middle East were losing ground to the forces of radical Shiism."

But by the time Brooks' column appeared in print, Time's weak-kneed editors had already copped out on a realistic choice for Person-of-the-Year, naming an obscure "You," or all of the people who go online, persons of the year.

Time should no longer have a Person-of-the-Year feature. It used to be under Henry Luce and his immediate successors, that Time's choice for the distinction was the man or woman who had done the most to influence the world in the year past. So Adolf Hitler was Man-of-the-Year for 1938, Winston Churchill for 1940, Joseph Stalin for 1942. and the Ayatollah Khomeini for 1979.

No such choices are still made. Not since 2001 have Time's editors had the courage to name an Arab terrorist Person-of-the-Year. The old standard no longer applies.

But this cowardice is not restricted at Time to the Person-of-the-Year feature. Increasingly, when it covers world events, Time cops out, or adopts a pie-in-the-sky view.

This happened when Time lauded Steven Spielberg's movie of appeasement, "Munich," about the Arab-Israeli conflict, as a classic. The moviegoers had better judgement. They stayed away from this cravenly unrealistic movie in droves.

Just a week ago, Time ran a lead article that said that in the wake of the Baker Commission report (which had not yet been released when the article was written), President Bush would make a U-turn and adopt its recommendations.

This totally sold the President short. Think of him as you will, it's clear that Mr. Bush is a stubborn man who is not discouraged at all easily. He promptly rejected the report and, in particular, its recommendation that America go hat-in-hand to Iran and Syria to beg their help in Iraq.

In a recent article about the situation in Gaza, Time focused only on what it claimed was an Israeli overreaction to terrorism. Its long article never even mentioned unending Arab rocket attacks on Israel that followed an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

It was the same thing in the Hezbollah-Israeli war. Time's editors seemed oblivious to the fact that Hezbollah had started the war by kidnapping Israeli soldiers.

All of this is not funny. Time remains the largest newsweekly in the United States in terms of circulation, although it has dipped a bit off its highs. The U .S. is in danger from the terrorists, just as Israel is, yet Time is following those who resist taking sound steps to defend the country.

Time is still capable of a sound article on occasion. This week's issue has an excellent long piece on the Litvinenko murder in London, and raises many questions about the nature of the present Russian regime.

But under its present editors, Time, on the whole, is weak and politically correct. What a shame!


Saturday, December 16, 2006

As Geffen Makes An Offer, And Baquet Continues To Hope To Return, FitzSimons Dithers

Just what is going on with the Los Angeles Times and a possible sale of the newspaper to more ambitious local interests?

It seems that Dennis FitzSimons, the Tribune CEO and prime business screw up, is dithering, although it's also possible that Chandler family interests aren't too welcoming of an all-cash $2 billion offer for the paper by entertainment mogul David Mogul. The Chandlers would want to structure any deal in a way that would cost them a minimum of taxes. The Geffen offer may not fit that desire.

Perhaps, Geffen should negotiate directly with Thomas Unterman, the Chandler family financial advisor, try to structure a deal with him and then get him to put pressure on FitzSimons to consummate the deal. Perhaps the Chandlers could maintain an interest in a Geffen proprietorship.

L.A. Times media correspondent Jim Rainey had two articles in the paper Thursday pertaining to the future of the Times. It is unusual for a paper to devote so much space to its own prospective purchase, but Rainey's articles continue to appear, and I like some better than others.

The new publisher sent out by Chicago, David Hiller, fired editor Dean Baquet in November, but now he allows an article to appear that reports Baquet maintains hopes of making a comeback. Is it conceivable that Hiller, now that he has been here awhile, has realized just how popular Baquet was in the community, and may harbor some thought himself of bringing him back.

This is probably unlikely. Under what terms could the two men work together? It is more likely, as Baquet apparently feels, that a new owner would bring Baquet back as editor.

Baquet is not exactly behaving as a dismissed editor. He continues to appear at social events with Times personnel, and he has reportedly been in contact with Eli Broad, another prospective Times buyer. He has remained in Los Angeles, does respond to messages, and he is holding on for a possible purchase. We don't know what kind of severance arrangement Baquet has with the Times. It could bge he can afford to wait a few months to see what happens.

But is a purchase likely? The Tribune Co. neither accepted nor rejected the Geffen offer and is said to be waiting to see about offers for the whole company. So far, they have reportedly been disappointing. Of course, it is possible a deal could be structured like the McClatchy purchase of newspapers, where it promptly turned over some of the papers it purchased. But it is also possible, as I wrote earlier in the week that FitzSimons wants to hold on.

So far, at least, there have been no major new layoffs at the Times, despite the fact that Baquet was reportedly fired for publicly resisting such layoffs. This may indicate that both FitzSimons and Hiller are waiting for a deal. I hope so.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Kerry And Other Cut-And-Runners Should Stay Away From Syria

--Written from San Carlos, California

Three Democratic senators, Ben Nelson, Chris Dodd and now, John Kerry, have either already seen or will see the thug who is the president of Syria, Bashir Assad. They are not doing America any good on these trips, and they have no business going to Syria.

It used to be a standard of American law that unofficial emissaries weren't permitted to practice foreign policy while abroad. However, that is now a rule honored more in the breach.

The three Democratic senators undertake their Syrian trips in the wake of the foolish advice of the Baker Commission that America ought to seek Middle Eastern peace by appealing to both Syria and Iran. However, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice have already rejected that advice as counterproductive. It would, under present circumstances, be perceived throughout the world as negotiating from weakness, and there is no evidence either of these countries are showing any good will.

Kerry is a particularly significant example of someone actually doing the U.S. interests in the region harm by consorting with evil doers like Assad, who is under suspicion in the assassinations of pro-Western officials in Lebanon, and is, in his own country, a terrible tyrant, like his father.

Kerry, the former Democratic presidential candidate, has behaved more and more disgracefully as time has gone by. Before the Mid Term elections, he had to suspend campaigning after he insulted American troops in Iraq with his "botched joke" that they were uneducated fools who had gotten "stuck" there. Just this week, Kerry, as phony as a three-dollar bill, is quoted as advising Time magazine to name the U.S. veteran as Person of the Year. This, of course, is an attempt to overcome his pre-election remark about the troops.

Even before that, Kerry was one of just a few senators who tried to advance legislation for a precipitate withdrawal from Iraq, conceding the war, and giving terrorists full sway in the Middle East. As far back as the Vietnam war, Kerry, after first exhibiting heroism in combat, later helped the enemy by arguing America should quit.

Now, Kerry is running off to see Assad. It reminds one of Lloyd George's visit to Hitler in the 1930s, when he came away saying what a gentleman he thought Hitler was.

As for Dodd, he also has made a fool of himself lately. He was supposedly a great friend of Joe Lieberman, the other senator from Connecticut. But when Lieberman was forced to run an independent campaign after being defeated in the Democratic primary by peacenik Ned Lamont, Dodd quickly abandoned the friendship and backed Lamont. Fortunately, Lieberman won.

Now Dodd too runs off to see Assad.

Are the American taxpayers paying for the travels of these craven appeasers? I'll bet we are.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Megan Stack Distinguishes Herself With Lebanese Coverage

--Written from San Carlos, California

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I'm a booster of the L.A. Times foreign coverage and that I feel it is integral to the successful future of the newspaper.

Take the situation now in Lebanon, where Times coverage by the correspondent based there, Megan Stack, has been positively distinguished.

In a difficult and highly important series of developments, Stack, who is now a seasoned Middle East reporter, has vastly outshone the New York Times reporter, Michael Slackman.

Her recent report that the United Arab Emirates had financed the establishment of an 11,000-man militia to defend the pro-Western regime of Premier Fouad Siniora is something Slackman has still not matched. Yet it explains why the Iranian and Syrian-backed Hezbollah organization has not simply been able to push over Siniora and install Iranian power on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

Today, it's reported that Hezbollah has backed down and agreed to a compromise.

Lebanon is a vital locale of the struggle between the U.S. and other Western countries with Iran and Syria. It is an asset to all Times readers that the newspaper has such a skillful and enterprising reporter in Beirut.

Quite aside from all her talents, this is, quite frankly, a dangerous assignment. We are all greatly indebted to her for her outstanding work.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Chandler Family Moves To Expedite A Sale Of Tribune Co.

--Written from San Francisco

The New York Times reports today that elements of the Chandler family represented by Thomas Unterman are moving to expedite a sale of parts of the Tribune Co., including, presumably, the L.A. Times, by encouraging new offers and perhaps participating in them.

This indicates the procedures leading to a possible sale are not moving fast enough to suit them, possibly because the offers thus far have not been high enough to satisfy the greedy. starry-eyed Tribune management, and possibly because that management -- CEO Dennis FitzSimons and his axis of stupidity -- is stalling in hopes of hanging on.

As the situation slowly develops, more than 100 Newsday reporters and editors have written FitzSimons a letter, objecting anew to all the cutbacks that have pared the Newsday staff by a third and dramatically reduced the scope of what that newspaper covers.

Newsday, of course, is another formerly Times-Mirror-owned paper. Its editor, John Mancini, quickly responded, "I applaud the passion and dedication of the (Newsday) staff...but I still think we are all putting out a great newspaper."

Mancini undoubtedly wants to make at least an honorable gesture to the staff, while at the same time not quite falling into the rebellion that cost Dean Baquet his job at the L.A. Times.

Speaking of Baquet, I notice that David Hiller, the new Times publisher who fired him, is now pleading with Times employees not to vote to allow the Teamsters union to represent them.

This is one subject upon which I agree with Hiller. It would not serve the staff in the long run, I believe, to unionize, and I always opposed it while working at the paper. Unions, by and large, no more care for the quality of newspapers than corporate managers like FitzSimons.

Hiller declares, in a memo to the staff, "I came out here with the mission of keeping the Times a great newspaper, and changing it, and making it better."

There are glimmers of hope in this assurance, but if Hiller really desired to keep the Times a great newspaper, he would not have fired Baquet.

Nonetheless, the reported decision to reduce the summary pages in Section A and restore Page 3 as a foreign news page, is one we can all agree with. It is said this is being done in accord with design editor Joe Hutchinson, which is a face saving gesture to him, but, after all, Hutchinson was partially responsible for the idiotic decision to have two summary pages before. I'd feel a lot better if he were leaving for Chicago, permanently.

Now, if only Hiller will decide to do away with the new silly type faces, another Hutchinson idea which the readers overwhelmingly don't like, I at least would say a good word for the new publisher. After all, when Hitler invaded Russia, Winston Churchill had a good word to say for Stalin in the House of Commons.

Hiller could of course become a good guy, if he called Baquet and offered him his old job back, with full authority.

In the meantime, let's hope the sale of the L.A. Times to a publicly-spirited local owner, will procede, by one means or another.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Two Fabulous Holiday Choices: Jim Newton's Book On Warren, and John Grisham's "An Innocent Man."

I've been reading two tremendous books, both of which I can recommend without reservation.

These are L.A. Times editor Jim Newton's biography of Earl Warren, and John Grisham's best-selling book, "An Innocent Man," Grisham's first effort at non fiction.

Newton has done a superb job. His book on Warren is a volume of real scholarship, and very fair to both Warren's greatness, such as exemplified by the Supreme Court's school integration and criminal law decisions, and his occasional mistakes, such as his World War II support of internment of Japanese citizens of California.

The book is particularly good also on Warren's associations with such figures as Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Nixon, not to mention his California political career and associations. I think this is a tour de force, probably the most lively book on the American Supreme Court and California politics I've ever read.

It is not a dry book. It is filled with tremendous reporting and analysis. If the Tribune Co. should really destroy the L.A. Times, unfortunately a real possibility, Newton can go on to a full time career as an author. I look forward to hearing what his next subject will be.

Grisham's book about Oklahoma murder cases, and specifically the framing by corrupt police and a district attorney, not to mention inept investigators, of two innocent men, for a murder they had nothing to do with, is absolutely spine tingling, and is now the top best seller on the New York Times' hard cover list.

I was therefore taken aback last Sunday when the NYT review of the book, by Edward Lewine was so negative.

There are some reviewers, like some journalists, who should shut up, because they have nothing constructive to say.

Lewine's suggestion in the review that Grisham should have embroidered the tale rather than stick to the facts was not only dishonorable but unnecessary. This book is fascinating as it is, and Grisham has given us a tale which is a stark warning of the shortcomings of our criminal justice system.

Good Christmas or Hanukkah presents! Both of these books fit the bill.


Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, goes from one disgrace to another. His latest promise that Israel will be "wiped from the map" puts him squarely on the side of Hitler and other Nazis. The conference he is staging this week questioning whether the Holocaust ever happened, betrays his own plan for another Holocaust.

This is the man that James Baker and his foolish commission want the United States to negotiate with, when, in fact, we should be working to remove him and his ilk from Iran and the entire Middle East.

Among those attending this week's conference is David Duke, the American Ku Klux Klansman. In consorting with the enemy, Duke proves once again he is a traitor to American democracy. Since he likes Iran, he ought to stay there.


Monday, December 11, 2006

California Prison System In Crisis

Abraham Lincoln said more than once that every time he heard the virtues of slavery extolled, he felt a strong desire to see it tried on the person praising it.

The same thing could be said of the many persons in our society, including many prosecutors and judges, who support the present California criminal justice system, the long prison terms under the three-strikes law, the lack of adequate procedures for parole, the placing of former convicts back in jail for relatively minor breaches of parole, and so forth.

Two articles in the Los Angeles Times Sunday dealt with the injustices of a system in which the number of imprisoned constantly grows and many middle-aged persons, well past the age in which they might be most prone to commit new crimes and often suffering mental problems, remain in jail.

First, there was a column in the California section by Steve Lopez on the case of the psychologically-impaired Stephan Lilly, sentenced to 25 years in jail on a three-strike violation, despite the fact that two of the crimes were strictly verbal and the third was arguably a misdemeanor.

The prosecutor in this sad case was Angela Brunson and the judge was a relatively new Schwarzenegger appointee to the bench, Richard Goul. Lopez actually was able to interview Goul, who defended the shocking sentence.

I looked up Goul on the Internet. Before being appointed to the bench he was a deputy district attorney in Long Beach in charge of sexual assault cases. The Lilly case was not a sexual assault.

It would be interesting to know more about Goul and Brunson, but I believe that given their judgement, they belong in prison more than Lilly does, and, in a just world, would be sent there for awhile to give them the opportunity to alter their views. In Brunson's case, she had offered Lilli an 11-year sentence on a plea bargain. When he didn't take it and went to trial, she urged that he be sent up for 25 years, and the judge went along. Shame on her!

The crimes committed by Goul and Brunson in their handling of this case are worse than the one for which Lilly is being incarcerated, at immense public expense, for 25 years. Shame on both these miscreants.

The second article appeared in the L.A. Times' improving Current section and was by Joe Domanick, author of the book, "Cruel Justice: Three Strikes and the Politics of Crime in America's Golden State" as well as a senior fellow in criminal justice at USC's Annenberg Institute for Justice and Journalism.

Noting that in 1994 California voters "overwhelmingly approved a three-strikes law mandating a sentence of 25 years to life for a third felony conviction and a doubling of a sentence for a second strike," Domanick goes on:

"Criminal justice experts estimates that as much as 25% of California's -- and the nation's -- decade-long crime decline is attributable to this punish all-criminals strategy. But the approach has come at a huge cost. The longer sentences have swelled the inmate population far beyond the capacity of our prisons and contributed to the rise of an older criminal class, especially in California. In Los Angeles County, for instance, felony arrests and incarceration of 40 to 59-year-olds have jumped dramatically, a stunning development, given that criminals tend to commit fewer crimes as they reach their mid-20s, and fewer still as they grow older. But in L.A. County, 40-to-59-year-olds are incarcerated at a rate 1,200% higher than in 1980. Many return to prison because of technical violations -- failing drug tests or missing a parole appointment."

When Schwarzenegger was first elected governor, Domanick remarks, he backed prison reform, but he soon retreated under pressure from the (corrupt) prison guards union. Now, he has fallen back "on the old, failed bromide of building more prisons."

Not only is the system unjust, but it costs the taxpayers of California billions of dollars.

Both Lopez and Domanick have done a public service with their articles. Let's hope someone is paying attention.

The headline on Lopez's article was, "Inmate is unstable; the system is just nuts."


(Another article on the California prison system in crisis appears today in the New York Times, Page A18, by Jennifer Steinhauer. She notes that California has the highest prison population in the nation, with state prisons currently housing 173,000 inmates. It costs $8 billion a year).


Sunday, December 10, 2006

With Left Now Taking Out Against Baker Report As Much As The Right, It's A Dead Letter

Events in the Middle East are in the saddle, and, despite wishful-thinking such as represented Saturday in Tim Rutten's column in the L.A. Times, the Baker Commission report is already a dead letter.

In the Sunday New York Times, the left is taking out after the Baker report as strongly, although from a different perspective, as the right did last week.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah warns an Arab Gulf state summit today that it will only take a spark now to ignite a Sunni-Shiite war all over the Middle East.

The New York Times reported a few days ago that the sectarian civil war now roiling Iraq has already sent 1.6 million fearful Iraqis swarming over the country's boundaries. About 600,000 of them have gone to Syria and 700,000 to Jordan, threatening to destabilize those countries.

Such events are far more important for the moment than the policy of weakness enunciated for America by the ill-fated Baker commission.

Today, two noted New York Times writers, Frank Rich and Roger Cohen, both discuss left-wing reaction to the Baker report, and it is just as vitriolic as the right-wing reaction.

Rich writes, notably, "Even if we could wave a magic wand and quickly create thousands more military advisers (and Arabic-speaking ones at that), there's no reason to believe they could build a crack Iraqi army and police force where all those who came before have failed."

As for the Baker commission suggestions in general, Rich is caustic.

"Its recommendations are bogus." he writes, "because the few that have any teeth are completely unattainable. Of course, it would be fantastic if additional Iraqi troops would stand up en masse after an infusion of new American military advisers. And if reconciliation among the country's warring ethnicities could be mandated on a tight schedule. And if the Bush White House could be persuaded to persuade Iran and Syria to influence events for America's benefit. It would also be nice if we could all break the bank in Vegas."

Meanwhile, Roger Cohen, quotes a possible future Democratic secretary of state, Richard Holbrook, the architect of the Bosnian settlement, as calling the Baker report a weak Washington-style compromise.

Holbrook is ready, just as Rutten was, to call the Baker commission report well-written. It just doesn't propose anything that's the least bit workable.

Please do not get me wrong, I'm not saying that President Bush's policy has been adequate. It seems like the President is in a quandary as to what to do, and he has fought three and a half years in Iraq without positive results. A more intelligent man would have tried new policies there long ago.

For now, however, we're just going to have to await developments to dictate our next steps. As the King of Saudi Arabia suggested, they may not be long in coming.

Meanwhile, the L.A. Times today sticks most of the critical Middle Eastern news well back in Section A. Are new editor James O'Shea and new publisher David Hiller crazy? You bet, they are. They no more realize what's important than their inept director, Tribune Co. CEO Dennis FitzSimons.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Jimmy Carter Wants To Do The Right Things, But He Doesn't Think Through The Consequences

Jimmy Carter, whose presidential campaign I covered for the L.A. Times back in 1976, always desires to do the right thing. I know that from long experience. But often he ends up making mistakes by not understanding the consequences of his positions.

Carter had a burning desire to be an effective President. But he brought too many cronies with him from the state of Georgia to actually be effective in Washington. They just did not understand well enough how American government functioned and how to get things done.

He wanted to curb inflation, but he could never bring himself to make the hard decisions necessary to do so. He dithered rather than make hard choices and he ended up with inflation that ran as high as 20%.

When the Iranian hostage crisis erupted, Carter became totally preoccupied with it. But he sent Ramsay Clark to negotiate with Khomeini and followed such a weak policy it very likely encouraged the Soviet Union's leaders to think they could invade Afghanistan and the U.S. would do nothing. Carter's inability to deal with Iran and force the hostages' release ultimately enabled Ronald Reagan to become President and it helped create an impression of American weakness that has allowed terrorists' to expand their operations not only in the Middle East but through much of the world.

When the Soviets did invade Afghanistan, Carter rapidly took steps to oppose them. But these steps included backing Arab religious fanatics who ultimately turned on the United States.

All this made Carter a poor President, though not an insincere one. He tried hard, but he was simply not up to the job. The American people realized it when they limited him to one term.

Sometimes, he has done better as an ex-President, leading humanitarian efforts and traveling to many countries to help ensure honest elections and the advance of democracy.

But, as he has grown older, some of Carter's incipient prejudices as president have come more to the fore. Never more so than in the Middle East, where Carter increasingly has sided with Palestinian radicals against Israel.

The latest example of this is the former president's latest book, entitled "Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid."

In it, he heaps on the Israelis the blame for the continued Arab-Israeli conflict, without taking note that whenever the Israelis have made conciliatory gestures, such as their withdrawal from south Lebanon or Gaza, Palestinian radicals have responded with suicide bombings, kidnappings and other terrorist attacks, while intensifying their vow to destroy Israel.

Unfortunately, Carter just doesn't draw the right conclusions about the consequences of the policies he adopts. In this case, they could lead to the destruction of Israel, not to mention an end to Western influence in the Middle East.

Maybe, it's time for Carter to retire. After all, he is 82. This would be a good time to return to his farm. His writing days should be over.


Friday, December 08, 2006

Two East Indian Journalists Make The Point: Baker Commission Has Sold Out the U.S.

From two east Indian journalists, friends for the last 37 years, comes a highly pertinent comment by e-mail on the Baker Commission report on Iraq and the Middle East:

"On all sides," they write, "people are advising the Bush Administration to try diplomacy in Iraq/Iran etc. Can they be serious? Who is going to make concessions -- which is what a diplomatic solution is all about -- when they know the Bush Administration is weak and besieged by domestic opposition? Can you see the insurgents in Iraq or Ahmadinejad or Bashir Assad being sweetness and light now? It is absurd."

This reasoned judgement convinces me that my first impressions are correct -- that not since Neville Chamberlain went to Germany three times to beg Hitler to take only half of Czechoslovakia have we seen a more dangerous approach to appease Fascist enemies as we have in the Baker Commission report.

It is highly fortunate President Bush has already brushed off key parts of the report, specifically both its foolish advocacy that we go hat in hand to the Syrians and Iranians in an attempt to find an Iraqi settlement, and also that we set a schedule for withdrawing U.S. combat units from Iraq.

It is, as I wrote the other day, a prescription for total failure in Iraq and the creation of new, fatal dangers in the Middle East.

I agree that the President has to explore a new strategy in Iraq, since it's obvious that as the commission says, the situation has been deteriorating there. He is now making those explorations and promises an outline by the end of the year.

But just because the war is difficult does not mean we can afford to bail out of it.

There is dangerous nonsense abroad in the U.S. these days -- that we can temporize with the evils that afflict us and sell out our allies in the Middle East without devastating consequences here at home and throughout the world.

Already, this morning, there are dangerous signs in Lebanon as to what such a policy would mean. A lengthy AP story begins, "Prime Minister Fuad Saniora denounced Hezbollah and its leader on Friday in an unusually personal attack, a day after the guerrilla group's chief renewed his pledge to bring down the U.S.-backed government." This and other reports show the tremendous pressures that are being brought by the Fascists against the lawfully constituted government of Lebanon.

What is happening in Lebanon is of critical importance, and it is clear what it is: Iran and Syria with their stooges in the terrorist organization, Hezbollah, are trying to take over Lebanon. It is an attempted power grab such as we have to fear in many places should the U.S. retreat in the Middle East.

Baker and his commission are as dangerous to the U.S. as the appeasement policies that brought on World War II. The President has made mistakes, but in this instance he must stand fast.

There are all kinds of people who are trying to roll him over. We see it in Time magazine this week, where Michael Duffy writes he thinks the President will give in.

I have more confidence in Bush and his stubbornness than to believe he will. For the good of America, he simply cannot afford to.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Medicare Premiums Increase, While Doctor's Payments Are Cut Back

It is a typical story in the business of insurance that often the premiums increase while the benefits are cut back. In other words, the insurance is less and less useful and affordable as time goes by.

That is what has been happening with the Medicare system. As politicians in Washington talk in a facile way about extending coverage to more people who don't have it now, the actions they actually do take are to make insurance more and more expensive, while the payouts are less and less satisfactory.

Now, I hear from my cardiologist that due to new schedules of payment he can probably expect 15% less in reimbursement for his work next year than he has been getting this year. And, he says, hospitals can also expect a decline in what they are paid by Medicare for the procedures they perform.

This development is unfair to the doctors and hospitals, but unfair to the patients too. As their premiums go up, their practitioners are given less and less for the work they do.

My own doctor, just for the record, is not a West Side physician, trying to charge outlandish prices for his services. His charges are, by comparison, quite reasonable. He works long hours as both a heart surgeon and a heart doctor, plus, in my case, he has been my primary doctor for many years.

I'm not saying by any means that he is suffering from poverty, but he usually accepts the reimbursement he gets from Medicare and medigap policies, and doesn't charge his patients any more. It is not fair to him that he is made to pay the brunt of the increasing costs of the medical system by accepting less and less in reimbursements.

In general, private insurers, the medigap companies, are being allowed, on the other hand, to reap greater profits. When the federal government adopted its drug prescription plan for seniors this year, for example, the powerful drug lobby managed to kill proposals that would have allowed the government to negotiate drug price cuts on a volume basis. Instead, what happened was that these profiteers, were allowed to continue to raise their prices far faster than the rate of inflation.

It is one thing to see that doctors and hospitals are paid just amounts for their services. It is another to allow private drug firms and medigap insurers to squeeze both patients and medical providers, year after year. The system is becoming unworkable.

I sympathized with what my doctor told me. He, and, in fact, all of us are being treated unfairly by politicians in Washington and the payment systems they continue to change and diminish.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Baker Commission Report Is Only A Prescription For Total Failure In Iraq

I will say right off the bat something few may agree with: The Baker Commission report is utterly worthless. It does not provide any rational way out of the Iraq imbroglio, and it can only compound American problems in the Middle East.

As I understand it from the presentations this morning, there are four main parts of this ungainly report of a bipartisan committee:

1--Reduce American combat troops in Iraq by early in 2008.

2--Train the Iraqi government and its military and police to take over.

3--Enter into talks with such enemies as Syria and Iran, both Fascist governments, to reach a Middle East settlement.

4--Exclude Israel from talks on its own future, while consulting the enemies of Israel.

This is basically what Lord Halifax told Winston Churchill in 1940 when he proposed entering into talks with Hitler. It would mean defeat in war just as surely now, as it did then. Churchill said no, then, and packed Halifax off to Washington as British ambassador.

To answer, the four major recommendations point by point.

First, U.S. combat forces are the only thing keeping any handle on a bad situation. To the extent they are removed, it will only grow more untenable.

Second, the Iraqi "government," troops and police are completely incapable of righting the situation. More training will not change that. They are simply not to be relied upon, if we are to prevent Iraq from falling into terrorist, or Iranian, hands.

Third, there is no point in talking with Iran or Syria when they are determined to oust the U.S. from the region, take over Lebanon and destroy Israel. Talking with them will only facilitate them in the realization of these goals. Further, it will sell out such U.S. allies as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan, which are, in fact, protectorates of the U.S. It would jeopardize vital oil supplies from the Persian Gulf.

Fourth, it is utterly unfair to Israel and fully proves the old suspicion that Baker is an anti-Semite, determined to destroy the relationship between the U.S. and Israel.

In asking that we enter into talks with Iran without putting their plans to develop nuclear weapons even on the table, James Baker has shown himself to be a craven appeasement advocate. He should never be permitted to work for the U.S. government again.

It is very unpopular to recognize we are in a war, and that it is one it is vital to win. But we have to do that.

No question, President Bush is under pressure, and he will be pushed now by some Democrats and Republicans in Congress to embark down the path that the Baker Commission has advocated. If he does, he will surely destroy any reputation he has left and accept a devastating defeat for the United States of America. He will perhaps fatally compromise the security of the American people. This report is a blueprint for weakness. It should be tossed into the trash can.

What can we do? I have a lot more confidence in the U.S. military and the new Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, to make adjustments and pursue the war.

Meanwhile, events in the next few months will relegate this hapless commission into the dustbin of history.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Mahony Should Resign, Yes, But The Church Should Also Do Away With Celibacy

That Cardinal Roger Mahony has behaved disgracefully in the scandal over pedophile priests should go without saying. As in the case of Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law, he has forfeited any right to public respect by trying to keep records secret and for his own salvation and the good of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, he should resign.

But beyond that the Roman Catholic Church needs to abandon celibacy in the priesthood and put its own practices in accord with human nature.

I realize this is asking a lot of a Church which has had celibacy as a principle, sometimes ignored, for many centuries.

But now, in the 21st century, it has become clear as never before that celibacy simply does not work out to the benefit of anyone, be they priests or lay men and women.

The consequence is the very kind of pedophile conduct which has besmirched the Church and ruined the lives of countless young people who fell victim to it.

It is one thing to say these victims should be compensated for the outrages conducted against them, partially at least to increase the chances they can recover peace of mind and go on to better lives. That is clearly necessary, even should it put the Church in financial straits for the time being.

But it is another to thoughtlessly continue the practices that have allowed pedophilia to positively prosper.

We have to recognize at long last that it is not natural to tell priests or nuns that they must wall themselves of from sexual desires, not enjoy matrimony and not succumb, in short, to normal lives. Requiring such of many, many men and women sets up temptations they cannot overcome. Yes, there have been perfect celibates, but, I suspect, very few.

Mahony, of course, has sinned beyond pedophilia, by protecting the pedophiles (and, of course, trying to protect his own reputation). He must go.

But the Church itself, for its own good, must reform. The outside world can be no more tolerant of its excesses than it should be of the violence which seems endemic in the Muslim religion.


Monday, December 04, 2006

More Meaningless Local News Is Not The Answer For The L.A. Times

Coming as they do from the most backward, parochial and even isolationist big city in America, Chicago, the usurping new publisher and editor at the L.A. Times, David Hiller and James O'Shea, cannot be counted upon to know what to do to restore Times circulation or keep the paper great.

And, right now, they seem particularly off on the wrong tack, running as headlines local stories, such as the L.A. Fire Department and its problems, that are of little interest to the cosmopolitan community in Southern California, while giving secondary shrift to the questions of real importance, such as whether President Bush will agree to alterations in his Iraq policies.

Even if more local news on Page 1 was the answer to the Times' problems -- a 450,000 slide in circulation in six years of Tribune Co. control -- there would be no reversal of the trend toward continual circulation losses without a lot more of a marketing effort than we ever see under Tribune.

So, assuming the L.A. Times won't be sold back to local interests right away, and Hiller and O'Shea regrettably will be around for awhile, we have to ask the meaning of their preoccupation with local coverage rather than national and international coverage.

To me, the meaning is clear. Hiller and O'Shea are following the orders of the inept Tribune CEO, Dennis FitzSimons, and laying the groundwork for cutting way back on the national and foreign bureaus. The continual cost cutting which has marked Tribune ownership will lead to a terrible loss of quality in these areas.

And this at a time when foreign news is of critical importance in both the world at large and American politics.

Kevin Roderick, with his own excessive interest in the minutiae of the Los Angeles scene, may view the local news emphasis enthusiastically, but most of the people of Los Angeles won't, at least not without the suburban coverage that used to mark the Times, but instead, under Tribune, has been slashed to almost nothing in most areas.

The Hiller-O'Shea-FitzSimons triumvirate means, in a word, that the newspaper will continue to sink, and present problems will be compounded.

They come from Chicago, folks, and that's about all we need to know. They don't know or care anything about California, and they don't belong here.

Specifically, the Fire Department stories seem to reflect a lack of knowledge about L.A. Don't these neophytes recognize that only about one third of the population of the L.A.-Orange County metropolitan area lives within the city of Los Angeles?

So every day, nearly, they dig the Times deeper into low quality. And, inadvertently, the only circulation Hiller and O'Shea are building in Southern California is that of the New York Times.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

Palm Trees Should Remain In Los Angeles

One of the most distinctive features of Los Angeles is its wonderful palm trees, many rising 100 feet or more above the city's finest neighborhoods.

Now, some shortsighted people in city government are telling us those beautiful trees, some planted for the 1932 Olympics, are causing dangers and have become the nests of rats and other pests. They say that as old ones die out, they should be replaced by sycamores and other kinds of trees. Two weeks ago, the often-foolish Los Angeles City Council passed a motion to limit palm trees.

These are the same kind of people who tell us our newspapers, banks and telephone companies ought to be owned by Easterners.

I don't agree for a moment.

No matter what the cost, as palm trees die out, they should be replaced by new ones, to perpetuate the appearances which make Los Angeles a distinctive city.

Gregory Rodriguez has a column in this morning's Current section of the L.A. Times extolling palm trees and saying they remind us of exotic places, make the city more than it would be without them.

But Rodriguez suggests these trees allow us to pretend to be something we're not, some kind of Mediterranean country.

Well, California does have a Mediterranean climate. And it is worth noting that in the desert canyons near Palm Springs, palm trees grow naturally. They are native to Southern California. Palm trees also are among the trees in the beautiful State Capitol grounds in Sacramento, which the late Eleanor McClatchy had such a large role in developing and safeguarding.

Long may they live. Or at least longer than our City Council members hold office.


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Thought-Provoking Tim Rutten Column, But, Of Course, It's A Civil War In Iraq

One of many strange things about the L.A. Times these days is that its best columnists, Steve Lopez and Tim Rutten, are not on the editorial pages at all. Under Nick Goldberg, the editor of the Op Ed page, there really isn't a distinguished columnist, but Lopez and Rutten are almost always both entertaining and thought-provoking in the California section and Calendar.

Never more than today, when Rutten has a column on the ideological divisions in this country that prevent many Americans from calling what is happening in Iraq a civil war.

I guess I run against form. Although conservative in foreign affairs and a supporter of American involvement in Iraq as necessary, I nonetheless have been calling the Iraqi conflict a civil war for some time now. It seems obvious to me, in fact, that there, increasingly, is a Sunni-Shiite civil war gradually spreading out of Iraq to other places in the Middle East, such as Lebanon.

Rutten's column appeared on a day when bombings in Shiite parts of Baghdad killed, according to the New York Times Web Site, at least 51 persons and wounded 86. This, tragically, has become routine, and when the Sunnis strike, it does not take long for the Shiites to strike back. Most of the attacks today in Iraq are not against the U.S. military at all, but simply Iraqis killing each other.

The Pope's suggestion that Islam might be a violent religion has been superseded by clear proof of this, with the internecine warfare now tearing Muslims apart. One of the few things that Bill O'Reilly says that I fully agree with is that the Muslim fundamentalists not only hate Christians and Jews, but they hate each other.

Still, one thing that Rutten says this morning that all of us should be able to fully agree with is this:

"The American people have given every indication that they want to move the debate on Iraq beyond the squalid divisions between red and blue commentators and politicians. They give every indication that they want their news media to tell them the truth about Iraq as best it can be described, and in turn, to tell that truth to power."

But when Rutten also says,"In politics, the conventional wisdom has held for some time that if the public concludes our soldiers were in the middle of a civil war, they would think it hopeless, and want to withdraw quickly," I'm not sure he's actually correct.

The New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, has been saying the same thing for some time, but he may be wrong too.

The ugly truth, as I understand it, is that in our own interests, we cannot afford to bug out of Iraq, even if it is a civil war. In fact, a civil war makes our interests there more manifest.

The Middle East is too important to be left to the Middle Easterners, just as war is too important to be left to the generals. And I believe that when push comes to shove, most Americans will choose to continue to be involved in Iraq. Leaving it, will leave a vital region of the world to the equivalent of the Taliban, with all that forebodes for the rest of the world.


Friday, December 01, 2006

As Tribune Co. Dithers On A Sale, Advertisers Seek Lower Rates At LAT

Time is not on the side of Dennis FitzSimons, the inept CEO of the Tribune Co. The longer he waits to sell off the assets of the failing company, the less he is going to get for them.

This becomes clear in reviewing two new developments along the long road of deteriorating prospects for the Tribune Co., owner of the L.A. Times and other former Times-Mirror newspapers.

First, FitzSimons announced this week another three-month delay in making decisions as to what to do about selling off Tribune assets. Contrary to earlier statements that a decision would be made by the end of the year, FitzSimons now haplessly says it will be the end of the first quarter of 2007 before a decision is announced. The apparent reason is that bids for Tribune assets have been disappointingly low thus far.

And why not? After the Tribune ousted or lost two publishers and two editors at the L.A. Times, it doesn't take an economic genius to conclude the Tribune assets are simply worth less than they once were. And the way things are going, they will be worth less and less the longer FitzSimons waits. It's like someone on death row. He desperately seeks to delay his execution, but in the meantime, he isn't eating and sleeping well, and his condition goes downhill.

Second, the Los Angeles Business Journal reports, key advertisers at the Times, such as Macy's and several big local auto dealers, are confirming that, due to Times circulation losses, they will press for lower advertising rates in the new year.

This is hardly surprising, since Times circulation is down 8% in the latest report and 15% since the last advertising rates were posted. (Times circulation is actually down by more than one-third, or 450,000, since Tribune Co. bought the paper in 2000).

Tribune total revenue has been flat or sinking, and stock is down by almost 40%. On every hand, the signs accumulate that FitzSimons, president Scott Smith, and such Chicago toadies as David Hiller and James O'Shea, newly designated publisher and editor of the Times, continue to drive the company into the ground.

I was told by a Times staffer this week that O'Shea hasn't even been spending much time in Los Angeles. The fading 63-year-old is reported to have returned to Chicago for medical treatment Thanksgiving week and then spent the whole week with his wife in Chicago.

It would all make a lot of sense were a sale being expedited. Then Hiller and O'Shea could disappear from California forever, but since a sale has been put off, one would normally expect they would be here, manning their posts, even if the ship is sinking. If O'Shea and Hiller had been in command of the Titanic, they may have jumped ship within 15 minutes of it striking the iceburg.

A show of hands at the Old Farts lunch this week found only one of the 60 persons present against a sale of the L.A. Times.

But, so far, there is little sign FitzSimons is listening. Unlike his underlings, he may choose to go down with the ship.


As Hezbollah demonstrations began today in Beirut, aimed at bringing down the pro-Western government and putting Iran and Syria in charge, Megan Stack, in a page 1 story in today's L.A. Times, reported that the United Arab Emirates, a Sunni state which is close to Saudi Arabia, has armed a new 13,000-member security force devoted to protecting the government of Premier Fouad Siniora. This is a heartening development, showing that the Lebanese government may have an armed defense after all. I just wonder if Vice President Cheney's visit to Saudi Arabia last week may have had something to do with protecting Siniora and thwarting Iranian and Syrian aggression. It's hard to believe the United Arab Emirates would have acted on its own. Stack, by the way, clearly scooped the New York Times' correspondent in Lebanon, Michael Slackman, with her report.