Monday, January 30, 2006

CNN International Blows The Hamas Story

Written in the former Portuguese Colony of Goa, India--

Who is directing CNN International's coverage? It is positively awful. BBC World is somewhat better. At least, it has some variety.

CNN International seems to believe only in talking heads, and the most predictable at that. In the present Hamas story, we see virtually nothing but the expected Palestinians, Israelis and various diplomats. All saying the most conventional things.

What do the Russians think? How about the Chinese, the Indians and the French?

One thing you really appreciate in reading the Indian press is how central the Middle Eastern story is these days to world concerns. There is about as much in the Delhi and Bombay papers about that, as there is in the L.A. Times. The Hamas story was huge here this week. Iraq is second.

There's a lot on the visit of the Saudi monarch to India, but very little in detail about what they might have talked about. The Indian government has just as much concern about Islamic fundamentalism as we do. What exactly are the Saudis saying?

I've been reading on the trip Stephen Coll's book, Ghost Wars, the CIA and Afghanistan from the Soviet Invasion to Sept. 10, 2001. This is a remarkable book and can be recommended unreservedly. The opening chapters build respect for Saudi intelligence services.

The fact is, Coll is worth hours. CNN International is worth virtually nothing.

This is a cable network in need of revitalization. I can't help but conclude they have never gotten over the demise of Tom Johnson, who, in many respects, was a top professional.

Also, CNN International is total pablum, not as good as regular CNN, which is not all that good itself.

There needs to be more critique in the great newspapers of CNN. I don't even mention Fox, which is not even seen very often in India. The Indians have better judgment than that.

I'm not just paying attention to the news here. My friends and I are going to dinner tonight with a horse owner whose steed has just won the Hyderabad Derby. It beats sitting in Los Angeles and never traveling.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Flying To The Old Portuguese Colony of Goa, Now Part of India

Written from the Goa State, India--

I am here today in a tropical paradise. For 300 years, until India assumed control, it was a Portuguese colony on the coast of the Arabian Sea. Now, it is a state of nearly ten million people, a little under half Catholic, a little over half Hindu.

Nearly everyone dresses in white. Coconut palms abound. Traffic is less than in overcrowded Bombay.

My friends, the Abrahams, and I are staying a week in a beauiful guest house for the princely sum of $11 a day. I asked how this could be. It is apparently part of the vagaries of international exchange, under which India, advancing in great strides, has a currency which is grossly undervalued. We have our own bedrooms, a dining room, sitting rooms, international television, newspapers, great food. We had wondeful Masala Dosas for breakfast, the exceptional crepe of Southern India. The only thing wrong is CNN International, which has grown even worse than last year.

I was just wondering, if we could move the executives of the Tribune Co. here whether they would not vacate their jobs and stay the rest of their lives. I can visualize Dennis FitzSimons sipping a coconut milk, and ruining the local newspaper.

We flew here yesterday on the new privately-run Kingfisher Airlines, and it was a revelation in itself. An hour's flight from Bombay, a great, comprehensive lunch, better than anything served on a transcontinental flight in America. Legions of smiling stewardesses. Massive but polite security. On time, more or less.

The printed menu featured both vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals with bottled water and fruit juice. It was served without hassle.

Why can their 340 service be so good and ours so lousy? Why does India air transport, which a few years ago was so chaotic, now so far outshine America's?
Why are their airline employees so anxious to please, while so many of ours don't seem to care?

These are questions which should be comprehensively examined, perhaps in a Congressional investigation.

What has changed more than anything in my eight visits here in 38 years has been self-image. The Indians have every reason to be proud of their accomplishments and it shows everywhere you look.

Yes, there are problems. At the Bombay (Mumbai) Airport the day after I arrived, an electronic device on an airliner falsely indicated a hijacking was underway. By the time, it was straighened out, there had been two hours of flight delays. It was the second time it had happened in a month.

With terrorism more common here than in the U.S., the security controls are at once more pervasive, yet somehow less onerous. There are more controls to go through, and we had to show our boarding passes five times and in my case my passport twice.

Still, their customer service is far ahead of ours.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Hamas Victory Is Not That Much Of A Surprise

Written from Mumbai, India--

The column in the Indian Express here today is headlined, "Today's question: A New Hamas?" And the writer, P.R. Kumaraswamy, declares, "A prudent policy would be to look for signals that Hamas is prepared to shoulder national responsibility...In other words, will the electoral victory transform Hamas into a responsible player?"

There should have been no great surprise in the Hamas victory. Fatah, the Palestine Liberation Organization, has been washed up for a long time. Corrupt, indecisive, without imagination, it has had nothing to offer the Palestinian people for a long time.

So, in my view, it would be a mistake to jump to bad conclusions as to what the ultimate election consequences may be.

Eugene McCarthy used to say, "Nothing so powerfully concentrates the mind as an election or a hanging." By that, he meant that an election, when fairly conducted, unlike last June's contest in Iran, lights up the atmosphere like a bolt of lightning. It clarifies everything.

There is no easy, or quick, solution to the problems in the Middle East. But it could be that with responsibility will come a more realistic set of policies for the Hamas organization. Already, that organization in the last year did, rather abortively, enter into the fitful truce.

The U.S., and the Bush Administration, should not take a categorical position at this stage on the election result. We have to be prepared to talk with everyone, and allow everyone time to adjust. This is also a time of transition for Israel, with the end of the Sharon period and new elections in the offing.

Ultimately, even Hamas's leadership may judge, we can only hope, that the policy of suicide bombings has been totally counterproductive. We can only hope that is the case.

But in the meantime, let's wait. Fatah is defeated and good riddance! Now, as Lincoln once said, we must be prepared to think and act anew.

(A few days later, both the Bush Administration and European governments are putting pressure on Hamas. This is not bad, but it's important to have a dialogue too. I'm not against either inviting the Hamas leadership to Washington or sending emissaries to the Middle East to talk with it. The new German chancellor has been playing a tough and respected role too. The more power to her!)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

India Has Changed -- And How!

Written from Mumbai, India--

The DNA newspaper here the other morning carried a story that India is expected to pass Japan this year to become the world's fourth largest economy.

Of course, this is a country with a population exceeding one billion. So per capita is a different story. But, still, in the forty years I have been traveling here, a total of eight trips, this is a country that has changed immensely.

There is now a well-educated middle class of more than 100 million citizens, most of whom speak English. It is technologically advanced. The scenes on the highway in from the Mumbai (Bombay) Airport include all kinds of skyscrapers that didn't exist in 1968, when I came here at a young man for the first time.

It used to be there was almost no international news in Indian newspapers. Now, there are pages of foreign news every day. It is altogether a much more cosmopolitan country.

The prime minister of Saudi Arabia is visiting India this week and the news is all about this country's vital search for energy supplies on the Arabian peninsula. India has discovered recently an off shore oil reserve, but, still, it is clear that the liquified natural gas supply from Dubai is vital, and the Indians are building the usual conversion facilities.

China and India, meanwhile, have reached some limited but useful agreements on bidding for other supplies, so they are not cutting each other's throats in the bidding process.

Chinese food was relativewly rare in India 40 years ago. Now, Mumbai has excellent Chinese restaurants, and offerings from many countries.

Traffic, however, remains a terribly unresolved problem. It took 80 minutes to come into downtown from the Bombay airport, and it seems vital that other means, perhaps a heliport downtown, or a waterway ferry system be developed. Environmealists are fighting both kinds of plans.

A New York Times column recently speculated on whether China or India would make greatest strides in the 21st Century. The column bet on China. But, make no mistake about it, India is making great strides. As an old friend of this country, I am heartened. And India retains its democratic characteristics. That is very important.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Medical Emergency On The Way To India

Written from Mumbai, India--

In case of rumors, I should report that on my way to see friends in India, I had a medical emergency in Frankfurt, Germany, and had to seek treatment, which seems at this point to be successful.

Resting in a Sheraton Hotel in downtown Frankfurt, I suddenly had a nose bleed and nothing I could do would stop it.

It took a wonderful doctor at the Ambulenze special hospital near the Frankfurt Airport by the name of Nocera to insert a pack that stopped the bleeding. Two days later, she cauterized the nose, and gave me a fitness-to-fly ;etter that allowed me to fly on on Lufthansa to Mumbai, which used to be known as Bombay. This is my eighth visit to India, where I have wonderful friends.

For two operations, extensive lab work, exams by other doctors, a lot of time in all extending hours, I was billed only about $300 in cash by this woman and her associates. She is a granddaughter of a German Jewish woman who was imprisoned at Auscwitz, and her grandfather, not Jewish, was murdered at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. This diligent, kind woman is now an Evangelical Protestant.

I'm feeling a little rocky, but I never feel all that great. I lost a lot of blood, according to the doctors, close to a dangerous amount. I had had nosebleeds before, but never one that didn't stop for eight hours. Parenthetically, I should also mention that as soon as I mentioned to the German hospital authorities that aside from Medicare and a Medigap policy that might not be good in Germany, I had no insurance, their price seems to have slid considerably. There is a lesson here about insurance which should not be lost on anyone: It increases prices, just as building new levees may allow floodwaters to rise.

Also, I should say that a taxi driver of Pakistani descent who worked around the hospital was a Godsend to me. He bought prescriptions, helped me arrange matters with Lufthansa and even argued with the doctors that I should be permitted to continue the trip. His name is Naif. He was well compensated I assure you, but he did more than I had any right to expect.

Citizens from two countries were involved in my misadventure, Germany and Pakistan. My opinion of both parties was enhanced.

Also, Lufthansa went to great lengths to notify my friends in India I would be arriving two days late. When there was initially only a message machine response in Mumbai, the airline called me at my Frankfurt hotel to see if I had another numbef for my friends. The Kempinski Hotel in Bombay postponed my reservation for two days without penalty, despite my being beyond the cancellation time.

It sometimes takes an incident like this to teach one how terrific human beings and new friends can be. Also, I'm grateful to the telephone calls that came in a steady stream from my daughter, Kathy, my son, David, my sister, Carolyn, nieces and in-laws once they heard the news.

My friends, Abe and Amrita Abraham, are ready for dinner, so I'll close. But I remain quite emotional about my misadventure, or should I say adventure, in coming to India, a country, which I had an opportunity to see once again on the way in from the airport this afternoon has made great strides.

Friday, January 20, 2006

New Cutbacks At The Sick Old Chicago Tribune

The ill-managed Chicago Tribune is off on new cost cutbacks, diminishing its already low quality, reactionary editorials and unexciting prose, sending its more astute readers to the rival Chicago Sun-Times. It's a porridge of poor journalism, and it shows we haven't seen the worst yet from Dennis FitzSimons and company.

This sorry bunch of losers and slackers always has one thing in mind: What can they do to give the readers less.

The Tribune's books section carried an announcement that as of Jan. 22, it will become a tabloid. This will have less space than the Tribune's old book review section, and thought was also given to moving the section to Saturday from Sunday. That would have produced 400,000 fewer copies, but it turned out it would have cost Tribune more, because of contracts with distributors requiring it to pay them extra to stuff another section into the Saturday paper.

Meanwhile, while the L.A. Times editorial pages has fuzzed up its stand on the reactionary Bush Supreme Court nominee, Samuel Alito, the Tribune, more openly lining up with Bush, is all for him.

"Plenty of critics fault Alito for his judicial philosophy," said the Tribune in an editorial endorsing him even before Senate hearings on his nomination began. "When it comes to his qualifications, though, Alito is about as good as nominees get." The Tribune lauded his intelligence, diligence, civility and intellectual honesty.

I imagine Times editorial pages editor Andres Martinez and Chicago-toadying L.A. Times publisher Jeffrey Johnson will further alter their views. They already endorsed John Roberts for the Supreme Court, and on the assisted suicide decision last week, where was Roberts? Right there with Scalia and Thomas, a new rightwing axis on the High Court.

A commentary on the Tribune by Hot Type, a Chicago press commentary, asked:

"Which story would you read? Sun-times, front page, January 4: 'Ryan to O'Malley: Expletive Deleted." Tribune, page one Metro, same day: "Ryan reply was curt, jury told."

This is par for the course. The Tribune is a stodgy paper, poorly, unexcitedly written. Had its directors been smart, they would have folded the Tribune coverage under L.A. Times supervision long ago, moved the company's headquarters to Los Angeles and tried to forget they ever published a Chicago paper.

But, no, they go on with further cutbacks in all the papers purchased in 2000 from Times-Mirror. And on Kevin Roderick's L.A. Observed blog today, there's a brief item saying that Times revenues continues to lag behind that of the Chicago Tribune, perhaps presaging further cutbacks at the Times.

I begin a round-the-world trip today, and will be filing periodically from India and New Zealand for the next month.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Sacramento Bureau Is Appropriately Tough On Schwarzenegger

Sometimes, to pay the devil its due, I have to say that the L.A. Times Bureau in Sacramento is tougher on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger than the Times Washington bureau is on President George W. Bush.

Certainly in accord with the trend is Peter Nicholas' Sunday, Jan. 15 story on how the governor's top four aides are having their pay checks bolstered by money coming from Schwarzenegger's big corporate donors.

It is not the first story indicating that the governor, who is up for reelection this year, is not the most honest of public officials.

Nicholas says that four top Schwarzenegger aides, including his new chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, who coddles business interests all the time, have been receiving monthly $5,000 checks from his political accounts to moonlight as campaign aides.

Named as getting the extra money besides Kennedy are Patrica Clarey, former chief of staff, Rob Stutzman, former communications director and Richard Costigan, who continues to serve as the governor's chief liaison to the Legislature.

Part of Kennedy's job, according to the article, will be to brief campaign donors about the governor's policy agenda in a series of luncheons and conferences.

Does this stink to high heaven? Of course it does.

Nicholas quotes watchdog groups as warning that Schwarzenegger is creating a potential conflict of interest if his aides appear financially beholden to campaign donors whose interests depend on state actions.

It was also revealed in Times stories last year that Schwarzenegger was getting a big series of payments, amountikng to millions of dollars, from a fitness magazine with many advertising interests in the food supplements the state should be regulatings. Shortly, after this was revealed, he terminated that contract.

But the governor has proved to be as much in the pocket of special interests as his predecessor, Gray Davis, ever was. And his hiring of Kennedy as chief of staff is especially suspect.

Kennedy has now worked for two unsavory governors in a row, in addition to serving utility interests when she was Davis' appointee on the Public Utility Commission. Nominally, Kennedy is a Democrat, but she is Republican when it takes to serving big business.

There is every reason to eye Schwarzenegger with great suspicion as he pursues a second term. But of course we'll get to know more about his Democratic opponents later. Right now, it appears that at least they are professional politicians, when Schwarzenegger is an insincere neophyte. By and large, professionals are preferable.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

David Lauter Would Not Have Been My Choice For Deputy Foreign Editor

I would be less than honest if I was laudatory about Marjorie Miller's selection of David Lauter as the L.A. Times' new deputy foreign editor.

My own experience with Lauter was not a pleasant one. He was mainly responsible for editing that dumbed down badly a story on the 10th Anniversary of the Northridge earthquake in which I tried to show that California was less prepared for a major quake than it had been for Northridge. That was the clear conclusion of most of those who I had interviewed. Lauter changed the story to remove critical elements from the lead paragraphs and made the story a mishmash while I was absent on a trip to South America. When I returned and filed a written protest, he never clearly responded (and neither did anybody else).

Also, I felt that Lauter's supervision as political editor of the 1996 national political campaign marked him as too bland. He was reluctant to let chips fall where they might and seize on what dramatic elements did exist in what admittedly was not the best, most scintillating political campaign the nation had seen. This was the campaign between President Bill Clinton and challenger Bob Dole.

Clinton not only was a rather corrupt President. But he was weak in the run up to the War on Terror, and backed away from a timely attempt to do something about the deplorable state of the national health system. Times coverage did not fully examine his failings.

It may be that removing Lauter from the Metro staff will improve its quality. He was at times a key part of a deplorable bureaucracy. But foreign coverage is the very essence of overall Times quality. I hate to see him move to a position closer to the top.

There is nothing wrong with Lauter's general intelligence, and he is a hard worker. I hope that under Miller, he does what he is told and does not let a tendency to change the hard facts of stories interfere with the paper's normally good foreign coverage.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Shav Glick Remembers The Past

After 71 years as a sportswriter, Shav Glick, retiring at 85, remembered the past in an article L.A. Times Sports Editor Bill Dwyre asked him to write Monday, Jan. 16.

And the greatest memory of them all was of the day, when Glick was just 17, and the young Jackie Robinson played in an exhibition game against the Chicago White Sox in Brookside Park near the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, on March 13, 1938.

The White Sox won the game against the Pasadena Sox that day, 3-2, but Robinson got two of Pasadena's six hits, stole a base and played flawlessly at shortstop. After Robinson started a double play on American League batting champion Luke Appling's hard grounder, Jimmy Dykes, the White Sox manager, talking with reporters, said, "If that boy was white, I'd sign him right now. No one in the American League could make plays like that."

Glick was the official scorer for the memorable game. It was to take Robinson nine more years to become the first black player in Major League Baseball.

Great pictures accompanied Glick's retirement story, including one of him standing next to Robinson in the Pasadena Junior College honor society photo of 1938.

But Glick's celebrated comment about his retirement wasn't in the article. "I haven't left the Times," he has said. "The Times has left me."

Glick did write, "You think about all the wonderful things you have seen and been privileged to write about -- 35 Indianapolis 500s, Formula One races, Times Grand Prix sports car races, every Long Beach Grand Prix but one, world championship motorcycle events, midgets, spring cars and yes, even drifting. And that's only the motor sports. How about two Olympic Games, a dozen Masters and U.S. Opens, a British Open at St. Andrews, Wimbledon, the World Series, Santa Anita Handicaps, and as a Pasadena native, more Rose Bowl Games than I can count..."

Now, if the Times had a decent editorial page, there would have been an editorial commemorating Glick's retirement. But of course, after the purge of virtually the entire editorial page writing staff, no one there remembers Glick.

Glick is not the oldest sportswriter in history. The Washington Post's Shirley Povich, if memory serves, wrote the last week of his life before he died at 93.

But still, Glick is a marvel. And the Times sports pages, diminished under the Tribune Company's awful ownewrship, still can muster great articles like his retirement piece. Dwyre, the great sports editor, is still in his place.

"As long as I covered sports, I got the most enjoyment from spotting young talent before it became famous, and interviewing young people before the world claimed them," Glick writes.

"Baseball fans think of Ted Williams as one of the game's greatest pure hitters. I saw that hitting when the Thumper was in high school in San Diego. He hit two prodigious home runs in the Pomona 20-30 tourament."

Thanks for the memories, Shav. "Retirement," he wrote, 'The dirtiest 10-letter word in the English language,' said media critic George Seldes -- begins today."

(Shav Glick died of the complications of melanoma on Oct. 20, 2007, less than two years into his retirement. He was 87).


Monday, January 16, 2006

Those Who Don't Want Israel To Retaliate For Terrorism Are Indeed Anti-Israeli

My commentator Paul Yoder is seriously off-base when he writes, on my criticism of Steven Spielberg and his appeasement movie, "Munich," that just because he opposes Israel's retaliation policies for terrorism doesn't mean he's anti-Israeli.

He is anti-Israeli.

Those who take the position that Israel and other countries, such as the U.S., should turn the other cheek and not respond to terrorism, would leave those countries in a defenseless position, open them to more psychopathic attacks and ultimately could destroy them. They are anti-Israeli, anti-American or whatever.

Yoder adds in responding to my December blog, "I don't believe that any government or people is above the courts, whether it is that of international law or public opinions."

But even the weak United Nations Charter gives every country the right of self-defense and it doesn't say they have to first go to the courts.

The courts take a long time to respond, if they ever do. When it comes to military action, that must often take place in lieu of the courts.

Yoder also refers to Israel as "continually abusing" Palestinian rights, and, says, properly, "Not all Palestinians are terrorists."

But when the Palestinian Authority refuses to take decisive steps to stop rocketing of Israeli territory, then Israel has every right to respond, just as the U.S. was correct over this weekend trying to kill the terrorist Ayman al-Zawahiri. There is nothing in international law that says Israel, or the U.S., must commit suicide rather than to respond to attacks against them.

Yoder represents the mixed-up liberal view of turning the other cheek. We don't have to sit around and let our people be murdered, as they were at the Munich Olympic Games, and the World Trade Center.

I called for a boycott of the Spielberg movie, and am delighted it is not doing particularly well. It's a lousy and biased movie that sides, implicitly, with the terrorists.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Drug Plan For Seniors Was Misconceived In Giving Private Insurers A Decisive Role

More and more, it appears that the new drug plan for seniors was misconceived and is turning out to be a mess.

As state after state is forced to come up with an emergency plan to see that its poorest elderly actually do get drugs at the prices promised, already it is clear that the private insurance companies, unwisely given a major role in the plan, are not living up to their responsibilities.

When do insurance companies behave properly? Almost never.

It seems in some respects like New Orleans all over again. The federal government promises a great deal, but does very little to see that it is really delivered. Just as the government failed to muster a successful rescue in New Orleans, so it is leaving seniors in a lurch here.

This is an immensely costly plan, and to undertake it without assuring federal control over drug prices, or at least assigning to the government the right to negotiate mass discounts in the cost of drugs was extremely foolhardy. The result will be a waste of public funds and uncontrolled inflation in prices.

Already, the drug industry is among the nation's most irresponsible. It has consistently foisted on the country outrageous prices, often selling the very drugs it produces abroad for much less. Its powerful lobby in Congress is accountable for the corruption that pervades that body. Its advertising of products is in itself a profound disservice to the public.

The Bush Administration, which has often proved inept in fighting the War On Terror, was in cahoots with the big drug producers in fashioning the plan for the elderly, and it bears the responsibility for its early ineptitude.

Under these circumstances, it's not surprising that the enrollment process was highly confused, with enrol-lees forced to remain for long periods on telephone lines just to get through to ask about the plan. Then, it took the companies and Medicare a long time to enroll those signing up, and, for those automatically assigned, the Medicaid recipients, the process was terribly fouled up.

Now, at the drug stores themselves, the co payments demanded are often mistaken, and druggists can't easily get through to the insurers when questions of their own arise.

Congress can't even successfully question the Administration's reactionary appointees to the U.S. Supreme Court. To hope that it will prove able to control the drug lobby and bring this plan to rationality may be too hopeful.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Bush Administration Intensifies The War With Attacks in Pakistan

For the second time since New Year's, Predator drones belonging to the CIA have gone after al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistani territory in what appears to be an intensification and widening of the War On Terror.

But if the target this time was the No. 2 to Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the report is that, once again, the U.S. didn't get him. He was said to be absent when 17 or 18 were killed at Damadola, north of Peshawar.

The news media hasn't been paying sufficient attention. But it should be no surprise that, realizing that this is a year of midterm elections, the Bush Administration is upping the ante in the Middle East and South Asia, hoping to score some salient successes in the months ahead.

The Pakistani response, while negative, has so far been fairly muted. It is likely the Pakistani government has been consulted and has given its permission at least in some fashion. As for elements within that rogue state, there are entirely too many people there willing to welcome the terrorists and give them refuge.

Meanwhile, Iran is defying the international community, resuming its carefully drawn up plan to develop nuclear weapons, and now vowing to hold a conference to try to mislead the world about the existence of the World War II Holocaust.

The president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a Nazi himself, and he will hopefully end up the same way as the Nazis of World War II, dead.

While the U.S. and Western European governments continue to talk of taking the nuclear matter to the U.N. Security Council and implementing sanctions, this would seem to be a hollow threat, with no discernible possibility of coordinated international action dissuading the fanatical Iranian government from going ahead with its plans.

This is just like Ethiopia in 1935. In the international community as a whole, there simply isn't the gumption to really take the miscreants on, and the United Nations, like the old League of Nations is a useless organization when it really comes to preserving international security. The League of Nations helped the advent of World War II, and the U.N. is just as worthless.

If Iran is going to be prevented from obtaining nuclear weapons, the Iranian government is going to have to be dissuaded by force and probably deposed. Certainly, there is no prospect of an oil embargo or other peaceful action being successful. And waiting for Russian and Chinese support for any meaningful steps is like waiting for Godot.

That's why these editorials you read in the L.A. Times and elsewhere are so phony. They wring their hands with alarm, but they don't face up to the realities of the situation. It's no surprise, of course, that world peace can't depend on Andres Martinez and a passel of well-meaning liberals.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, casualties mount again, and final election results are delayed. There too dire action against the Sunnis is going to be necessary to bring success. Winning their hearts and minds will not accomplish American objectives in that benighted land. The War On Terror cannot be won in any other way than war.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Dave Morgan, Eric Malnic And Other Departures at L.A. Times

In another of a series of departures at the L.A. Times, the move of Dave Morgan, the number two to Bill Dwyre in Sports, is particularly significant.

Morgan is taking a job as executive editor for Yahoo Sports, rather than stay around to succeed Dwyre when he retires in a few years. In a heartfelt note to the staff, Dwyre paid tribute to Morgan's many abilities and described the Yahoo job as an important one, which it is.

Morgan, it can be said, was one of the best liked editors at the paper. He has always had a sense of style, was easy to work with, and highly intelligent.

It could well be that Yahoo and Google will, in the years ahead, buy some of the great newspapers. It would certainly make sense for Yahoo to buy the Times, because it could then use its strong foreign and national staffs to market a more professional news product around the world. This is a to-be-hoped for outcome of the Times' bad situation now, when it is in the hands of professional inferiors in Chicago. There would be many synergies in such a move, in advertising as well as news.

So, when skilled professionals like Dave Morgan go to Yahoo to further develop its sports product on the Internet, they may, in the long run, be coming back to the newspaper business in important positions. I hope so. Yahoo is based in Santa Monica, so Morgan is not leaving town.

Other departures from the Times this week have been in the nature of buyouts, and some of these folks, like Eric Malnic, Daryl Kelley and David Rosenzweig, are retiring. A reception was given for them at the paper, and Malnic's speech there was widely lauded. Eric will particularly be missed for his excellent coverage into the cause of airline accidents, and he contributed to the paper in so many ways.

Some of the other departures honored, such as Nora Zamichow and Wendy Thermos, possibly Larry Stammer, are too young to stop working in paid capacities.

The other day, at the Bill Robertson memorial at City Hall, the federal judge Stephen Reinhardt made the point to me that every time men and women of knowledge and caliber leave the Times, the paper loses institutional memory and is diminished. That has certainly happened in the layoff and buyout process, and despite the fact the Times has already hired some replacements, it's not going to be the paper it was.

The Tribune layoff-buyout process was designed by executives and lawyers in Chicago as mainly a cost cutting move, getting rid of higher-paid workers with the aim of replacing them, if they are to replaced, with lower-paid ones. This is the essence of corporate America these days, throwing out the baby with the bathwater. It is part and parcel of the ongoing cutback in pension and other benefits as well, which is diminishing the quality of this country.

Those who designed the scheme are bad people, dishonorable people, and there is no reason to pretend otherwise. And if Times circulation continues to sink, the process will be repeated in the future.


There are few writers in American newspapers more eloquent, with more of a sense of good taste, than Michiko Kakutani, the senior book reviewer for the New York Times.

This morning, in reviewing "At Canaan's Edge," the last in the biographical trilogy about the life of the late great civil rights leader, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by Taylor Branch, Kakutani ends with a long quotation from the conclusion of the speech King delivered in Memphis the night before he was assassinated. This was one of the great speeches in American history, and it was moving to read excerpts again this morning in the Kakutani review.

As Kakutani writes, "In the famous speech he gave...King put aside his own doubts and fatigue, cast off threats against his own life, and rallied the crowd to the cause he had taken up so many years before...

"Well, I don't know what will happen now," he said. "We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop and I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity as its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will, and He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over, and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. So I'm happy, tonight; I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

How dramatic and moving it is to read those words, each time we see them.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

New York Times Headlines Are, Year After Year, Among The Best

Finally, just as my next trip is about to begin, I'm nearing the end of reading all the back issues of the New York Times and Los Angeles Times from my 84-day drive to Alaska over the summer. I'd been waiting for this, because the end of the trip coincided with the biggest story of the year, Hurricane Katrina, and I'd been curious to see how the papers covered it.

There was certainly nothing wrong with the L.A. Times coverage. It sent large numbers of reporters to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and, even now, continues to provide massive coverage of what, thus far, has been a disappointing recovery marked by the insouciance of the Bush Administration.

But if anything gave the New York Times the edge, it was, as usual, the wonderful NYT headlines.

There is something in the NYT design that facilitates telling a dramatic story in the headlines and keying the paper's readers, better than anything, to what is going on. On the other hand, the LAT design does not give itself to capturing the full drama of great occasions.

The New York Times earned its reputation for superb disaster coverage back in 1912 when it beat every other newspaper by 24 hours on its Titanic coverage. It had an assistant managing editor on duty that night, Carl van Anda, who read Morse code and realize quicker than any competitor that the ship had sunk with disastrous loss of life.

Katrina first was mentioned prominently five days before it struck New Orleans, when it remained a smallish hurricane off the east coast of Florida. It was not even seemingly aimed at New Orleans until two days before it struck there. Weather forecasters at the Hurricane Center in Florida thought that after crossing Florida, it would turn north in the Gulf of Mexico and strike the Florida Panhandle.

Even when it hit Louisiana and Mississippi, Katrina the first day did not seem so dramatic. It had "faded" to a Category 4 storm and seemed to have missed New Orleans by a few miles.

However, on Aug. 31, the NYT had the first of five consecutive days' of its trademark page-wide headlines, the ones that no one else in the newspaper business comes close to matching.


A picture of a flooded New Orleans took up two thirds of the page beneath the headline.

Meanwhile, the same day, the L.A. Times, by comparison, dropped the ball dramatically. The LAT headline simply did not tell the story as dramatically as the NYT did. "Misery and Water Keep Rising," the banner said, although there were three pretty good subheads: "Destruction: New Orleans is deluged; in Mississippi, neighborhoods vanished" "Human toll: The dead must wait as stranded survivors plead for rescue" And "Lawlessness: Looting is out of control as exhausted police can't keep up."

The NYT sub-heads said, "SITUATION IS DIRE" and "Pentagon Joins in the Effort -- Bush Cuts Vacation Short."

The L.A. Times flood picture, while spread across the top of Page 1 beneath the name of the paper, was not as sweeping or as colorful as the one in the New York Times.

The next day, Sept. 1, the LAT had a good headline. "New Orleans Death Toll May Soar; Survivors Desperate; Looters Brazen," it said.

The NYT had a less dramatic headline, although it was all in caps in accord with NYT style: "BUSH SEES LONG RECOVERY FOR NEW ORLEANS; 30,000 TROOPS IN LARGEST U.S. RELIEF EFFORT"

However, on this second day, the NYT lead was more colorful.

"NEW ORLEANS, Aug. 31," was the dateline on the story by Ralph Blumenthal and Robert D. McFadden, the reporter who often is the lead writer on disaster stories for the paper. And the lead said, "Chaos gripped New Orleans on Wednesday as looters ran wild, food and water supplies dwindled, bodies floated in the flood waters, the evacuation of the Superdome began and officials said there was no choice but to abandon the city devastated by Hurricane Katrina, perhaps for months. President Bush pledged vast assistance, but acknowledged, "This recovery will take years."

The lead on the LAT story by Scott Gold, Lianne Hart and Stephen Braun, said, "NEW ORLEANS -- The city's police and emergency officials worked desperately Wednesday to prevent complete social disintegration as widespread looting continued for a second day and cresting flood waters hid untold numbers of dead."

The main thing to be said about all this is that when something really big happens, NYT style and design gives them an edge. The same thing was true on 9-11, when the L.A. Times headline was disappointing blockish, while the NYT headline soared.

Joe Hutchinson has been working on L.A. Times design now for some time. It is time, however, for a redesign to be launched on the really big occasions that build a newspaper's reputation.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

L.A. Times Story on Cheney's Health A Public Service

It may just be my imagination, but sometimes I think I can see the new managing editor, Doug Frantz's, hand in the L.A. Times daily product, which I've been looking forward to, and it may be there in the useful long story the Times did on Page 1 Tuesday, Jan. 10, on the state of Vice President Cheney's health.

The story headlined, "Details on Cheney's Illness Are Few," was necessarily somewhat speculative, since in this highly secretive, press-unfriendly Administration there are few useful details about anything. But still the story outdid the New York Times by quite a margin, even though the NYT's medical writer, Lawrence Altman, had a byline on their story.

The L.A. Times story, by Peter Wallsten and Tom Maugh, said, appropriately, that Cheney's trip to the hospital this week "sparked renewed questions about the health and fitness of the man who is first in line to succeed President Bush and, as the behind-the-scenes architect of Bush's foreign policy, has emerged as one of the most powerful vice presidents in history."

Any article about the medical condition of a high official determined, as Cheney is, to keep his exact health a mystery, is necessarily circumscribed, but Wallsten and Maugh do some cautious speculation, largely centering around Cheney's known heart problems. After all, he has had four heart attacks and numerous heart episodes.

The article never mentions the word "diabetes," but, being diabetic myself, and knowing the symptoms well, I wonder whether Cheney might not also be diabetic. After all, as is now known, diabetes is closely related to heart troubles, and 70% of all diabetics eventually die of cardiovascular problems. (In my case, I have not had a heart attack, although I did have what might have been a minor stroke in 1995).

Cheney's foot problems could well be an arch problem, which would be a frequent diabetic complication. Certainly, the prescribing of diuretics could be related to a swelling of the feet which is also a frequent diabetic complication, as could be his weight problems. More and more, the treatment of diabetes consists of a battery of blood pressure, cholesterol and other medicines designed to keep the diabetes under control to avoid or put off complications.

We know from the historic record of other presidents and vice presidents, plus foreign dignitaries, that the medical condition of high officials is often carefully concealed.

Woodrow Wilson, for example, was virtually incapacitated by a stroke at the end of his Presidency, and the dire condition of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the last year of his life was not generally known at the time, although pictures at Yalta and elsewhere showed him to be increasingly frail. Roosevelt suffered from heart disease, but the dangers of high blood pressure were so little appreciated at the time, and treatments for it so elementary and often mistaken, that Roosevelt was actually encouraged to eat steak in the final months of his life.

Whole books have been written on Abraham Lincoln's medical condition, although it remains quite mysterious. In his great biography of Lincoln, the Harvard professor, David Donald, relates a story that indicates Lincoln remained at least in some respects, in good condition at the end of his life of 56 years. Visiting federal troops in Virginia just weeks before he was assassinated, he demonstrated his rail-splitting prowess by seizing an axe, chopping away at wood very vigorously for a number of minutes and then holding the axe, steadily, with one hand out in front of him. When Lincoln left, several soldiers tried to perform the same exercise, but failed. As Lincoln lay on his death bed, observers noted that he had very strong muscles.

A poet later wrote, in commemorating Lincoln, "The hand that held the axe that split the rails in Illinois (as a young man) was (as President) on the pen that set a people free," but, of course, this was more an observation of Lincoln's strength and consistency of character than his good health.

Lord Moran, Winston Churchill's doctor, wrote a book on keeping the great British leader alive so long through a series of strokes, pneumonia and other physical ailments. Churchill became Prime Minister when he was 65 and served in that post in his 80s.

Charles de Gaulle returned to power in France at 68 and was a vigorous leader well into his late 70s. The great general seldom talked about any health problems.

Unfortunately, Cheney does not, apparently, have the physical prowess of Lincoln, and is not apt to have the longevity of Churchill, or even de Gaulle.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Time Magazine A Mixed Bag In Its First Issue Of The Year

Time magazine can do things very well, as it shows in its first issue of the year with masterful coverage of the scandal in the Bush Administration, the Administration's clear violations of the law in authorizing domestic spying without warrants.

But the good impression is blurred with a fawning piece at the beginning of the magazine by Ann A. Moore, the new "chairman(sic.)" and CEO of Time, Inc. about the outgoing Time, Inc. editor-in-chief, Norman Pearlstine and his successor, John Huey.

This piece, by a woman who marked the start of her tenure by laying off a whole group of talented employees, manages by excessive praise to Pearlstine and Huey make them look even worse than Dennis FitzSimons, the inept CEO of the Tribune Co.

Imagine writing a piece about Pearlstine and never mentioning his disgraceful decision to bow to the special prosecutor and cooperate in the government's attempt to silence a free press in the CIA leak case. It was Pearlstine who instructed his White House reporter, Matthew Cooper, to fold his tents and testify to the grand jury about his source. In doing so, Pearlstine stamped himself forever as a cowardly sellout to government interests. We see the results in the new Justice Department investigations of leaks to the New York Times on the domestic spying scandal.

I can just imagine what some of her editors thought of this piece by Moore. They must have literally shuddered to see her make such a fool out of herself.

What is it that makes so many of these high corporate executives so ridiculous? After all, Mark Willes' severance from Times-Mirror, at least $64 million, was bad enough, without his insisting on raiding his own office refrigerator of all the drinks.

Time, parenthetically, makes too many executive changes too often.

Other than that, it has a good magazine this week, with a long review of the book by New York Times reporter James Risen on U.S. intelligence operations in the War On Terror, and a nice exchange between former Rep. Bob Barr and columnist Charles Krauthammer on Bush's domestic snooping.

Even the overly emotional excerpts of Taylor Branch's book on the final days of The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., were entertaining.

The late Mickey Ziffren, who was raised in pre-Nazi Germany, always said later she could tell who had been Nazis, "It's the obsequious ones," she say. "I've learned that those who are at your feet today, can easily be at your throat tomorrow." Ann Moore apparently is that type.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Samuel Alito Hearings Likely To Prove He Is Outside The Mainstream

Both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times have devoted considerable space to the onset of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings into the nomination of Samuel A. Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court. With enough on the record already to indicate that the hearings will show Alito to be well to the right of the judicial mainstream, the immediate question is whether Senate Democrats will launch a filibuster against the nomination.

A filibuster is appropriate if Alito sticks with past assertions that the President has almost unlimited powers to ignore Congress and proceed to spy on Americans without seeking court warrants.

This is a new and pernicious doctrine. For the first time since 9-11, my own feeling is that the Bush position for warrantless wiretapping does indeed represent a threat to American liberties.

There is nothing in the American experience to indicate that panels of judges would not allow wiretapping in the event of an imminent terrorist threat in any case.

Since the Alito nomination, much has appeared in public records to indicate that Alito is outside the mainstream not only on abortion, one-man-one-vote and other issues, but on the key issue of excessive Presidential power, overwhelming both Congress and the courts.

There is considerable evidence that many in Congress, including some Republicans, are opposed to any such power grab by President Bush, or any other President.

Accordingly, if Alito sticks with his positions, or refuses to explicitly answer questions, there must now be a real fight over this nomination. Politics as usual cannot be allowed to prevail.

The Democrats in Congress have hardly been very strong. Often, they have avoided fights, either because they think they might lose, or fear that there is a majority to do away with the filibuster.

But if they fight on Alito, I doubt they will find this to be the case. The recent 52-47 vote by which the Senate refused to break a filibuster on extension of the Patriot Act shows the present lay of the land in Congress. And Alito, if anything, goes beyond Scalia and Thomas into the very fringeland of American rightwing politics.

This is my third blog on the subject of Alito. I've opposed him before. If his record has been accurately presented up to now, I feel strongly he is not suitable for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Incidentally, commendation is particularly due the New York Times' piece by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Sunday, headlined, "In Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings, Test for Democrats as Well as Alito." Stolberg started in the suburban sections of the L.A. Times. She has come a long way and is one of the most distinguished Washington reporters.

President Bush today cast the Alito nomination peculiarly as a matter of "dignity."
It is not "dignity," it is cowardice for Congress to fail to stand up to the President on a matter of high principle, such as this.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Rumors The L.A. Times May Get A New Labor Writer

It was quite a magnificent memorial service in the Council Chambers at L.A. City Hall yesterday, Jan. 7, for labor leader Bill Robertson, and the L.A. Times gave it appropriately fine coverage this morning, by the old labor writer, Henry Weinstein.

But an important thing is that the Times name someone to replace Nancy Cleeland as the paper's beat correspondent on organized labor. Cleeland quit that post last year when she perceived no one in the new Business section really cared whether the Times covered labor or not. That was just months before the public employee unions turned back Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Special election proposition to gut their influence over state government.

Now, the report is that when Joe Mathews returns to the Times staff after completing a book on Schwarzenegger's politics, he may ask to take over the labor beat, and that would be excellent news, since Joe, the son of Linda and Jay Mathews, did a fine job covering Compton before taking a leave to write the book.

That there's a lot to write about in covering organized labor was evident at yesterday's overflow service yesterday.

The way the two and a half-hour program was organized, the speakers appeared mostly in alphabetical order. As it happened, that left the strongest speeches to the end, with the great liberal on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, Stephen Reinhardt, and the firebrand Congresswoman from the South Side, Maxine Waters, among the final speakers.

Both gave distinguished presentations pointing out the importance of the labor movement and of Robertson himself, who bridged the gap between organized labor and the establishment in Los Angeles long before he died last month at the age of 89.

Waters, among other things, paid tribute to the transit workers in New York City who struck for three days before the Christmas holiday in an effective and successful protest against plans to cut their pensions.

This was an important issue in national life, said Waters, and it certainly is. The Times ought to be covering it more than it is. It needs someone like Joe Mathews on that beat.

Reinhardt and his wife, Ramona Ripston, head of the Los Angeles office of the ACLU, credited Robertson with uniting labor with the civil rights movement in Los Angeles. Look around, the federal jurist said, and you will see a diverse staff at City Hall. Robertson, he said, and the mayor he supported, Tom Bradley, bear much of the credit for that.

Reinhardt also got off one of the best stories of the day when he told how he and Robertson, who together had negotiated the deal that brought the Oakland Raiders to play in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in the 1980s, were once attending a Los Angeles Rams playoff game when Robertson suddenly received a telephone call in the fourth quarter. "Who the Hell can that be," asked an annoyed Robertson. "It has to be (Gov) Jerry Brown," Reinhardt said he had answered. "He's the only one in California who doesn't know there's a big football game today." And guess what, it was Brown.

Brown, now running as state attorney general, spoke at the memorial service as well. He told how, despite his lack of interest in sports, Robertson got him to come to Colorado to make a key presentation before the U.S. Olympic Committee in Los Angeles' successful bid for the 1984 Olympic Games.

Henry Weinstein, a reporter with a conscience, was at the service throughout, sitting near the front, taking it all in. For once again, even under the lackluster Tribune Co., the L.A. Times was covering something that really mattered.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Ariel Sharon Will Be Missed At A Crucial Time In The Middle East

Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister now in a coma after a massive stroke, has been a larger-than-life figure in the Middle East. Often, he made mistakes, he succumbed frequently to excess. But in the end, he saved Israel from the depredations of the suicide bombers and sought to leave his country with a more rational policy on the settlements in Arab territory.

With only 7,000 settlers in a Gaza with 1.3 million Arab population, the Israeli presence there made no sense, and the Gaza withdrawal in August was a necessary step, even though it has not brought peace. Sharon, an early exponent of settlement, had the wisdom finally to realize that.

But his unilateral withdrawal has not brought peace, because the Palestinian authorities have no control, and more democracy in Gaza apparently means only more power for the violent Hamas organization.

Under those circumstances, Sharon knew Israel had to soldier on, continue the policy of reprisals for violent acts and hope for better times some day in the future.

It is seductive for liberals to urge a more peaceful policy, not only in Israel but in Iraq, as a means of dealing with Islamic fascism, but it won't work, in my view.

Sharon was struggling to form a centrist party to strive for more rational borders when he had his stroke. Now, that prospect may go glimmering, and a period of uncertainty, to say the least, is in prospect in Israeli politics.

But that is not to say that, all things considered, Israel cannot be thankful for Sharon's career. Repeatedly, the Israelis have been blessed by great military leaders who have had the fortitude to keep the state fairly safe from its enemies.

David Ben-Gurion. Yitzhak Rabin. Moshe Dayan. Golda Meir. Ariel Sharon. Without them, there would be no Israeli state today. In the wake of the Holocaust, they showed the determination and military skill that kept the Jewish people alive.

As the former leftwinger, David Grossman, wrote in the L.A. Times Friday, "The (Israeli) people saw Sharon as their unchallenged, natural leader, mature and wise. He became a kind of "democratic monarch." Was it his physical presence, his huge farm in the Negev, his profound, almost erotic connection to the land, his tales of heroism? Something about him said power, confidence and stability..."

As for me, I'll always remember that in the Yom Kippur war of 1973, after a massive reaupply by the U.S. ordered by then-President Richard Nixon, an Israeli task force under the command of Sharon crossed the Suez Canal and seized considerable Egyptian territory. Egypt, then, decided it had had enough. That's my greatest memory of the dynamic general, Ariel Sharon, a man that, on balance, deserves admiration.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Purge of L.A. Times Editorial Page Writers Will Be Almost Complete By Feb. 1

With the departure by buyout of Judy Dugan and John Needham reportedly set for Jan. 27, and Sergio Munoz also due to leave by the end of the month, the Michael Kinsley-Andres Martinez-generated purge of the L.A. Times editorial writers is almost complete.

What an achievement! Three winners of the Pulitzer Prize--Alex Raksin, Bill Stall and Bob Sipchen ousted. Other distinctive writers, Greg Johnson, Molly Selvin, Sandy Banks and Andrew Malcolm, also gone. Cartoonist Michael Ramirez and columnist Bob Scheer purged as well.

Not since Stalin had his sister-in-law executed for showing up late to a family dinner has there been less rhyme nor reason for a massive switch.

And while the editorial pages settle down to mediocrity, with a few exceptions, we'll have to see what the final results are. But it's certainly not excessive to say this was unnecessary, and that no matter how uncomfortable Kinsley, Martinez and publisher Jeff Johnson were with the old guard talent, they shouldn't have wielded their knives quite so dramatically.

Of the original staff, only Karin Klein down in Orange Co. is left, and possibly Mary Engle, who is away but has reportedly told friends she will probably not return to the editorial page.

At the moment, there is little question that the Times' most distinguished columnists are all off the editorial pages. There is Steve Lopez in California, Tim Rutten and Al Martinez in Calendar, Bill Plashcke in Sports and Michael Hiltzik in Business. All present scintillating points of view that are generally lacking on the editorial pages.

It all reminds me of the late Sen. Eugene McCarthy, who once remarked of reporters he didn't like, that "they can write, but they can't read."

Generally, with such purges, those who undertake them plant the seeds of their own eventual destruction. This process has already begun at the Times, with Johnson giving Kinsley his walking papers.

(Kinsey was my "jerk of the year" for 2005, and today I notice in the New York Times that the firm he worked for for several years, Microsoft, has cravenly bowed to the Chinese government and purged its Web Site in China of blogging journalists who had the temerity to write about a Beijing newspaper strike. Kinsey showed little devotion to democracy as L.A. Times editorial pages editor, and now his firm is an easy touch for tyranny in China).

Also, we see in a Chicago Sun Times article the other day, that Tribune Co. CEO Dennis FitzSimons is under pressure, because the stock prices and circulation at Tribune papers keep falling. He is struggling to show he has something positive to offer, but experts on American newspapers know better. A change in leadership of the Tribune Co. could ultimately result in even more changes on the LAT editorial pages.

At least Andres Martinez won't have the opportunity to fire somebody who bested him in a Pulitzer competition, as he did Bill Stall. The reason though is that Martinez will probably never be competing for a Pulitzer Prize again.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Schwarzenegger Proposal On Toll Freeways Should Be Rejected

It's always been obvious to people who thought about it that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was no Californian. He has that old European mentality. He sides with the special interests. He is against the free spirits of California. Now, he confirms it for all to see, when he comes out against the freeways. He with his fellow hater of the public interest, the crypto-fascist Susan Kennedy.

Now, rather than build more freeways, the governor is proposing to build toll lanes on the freeways.

This proposal alone is enough for his reelection bid to be rejected.

The toll roads would not be restricted to trucks on the Long Beach Freeway or to a freeway in the Bay Area. Once this pernicious idea gets rolling, we'll all be paying to drive on all the highways and the California the governor and his friends want, the one for the rich only, will be with us forever.

Schwarzenegger does not have good ideas. Growing up in a Nazi family, he has played fast and loose with ethical government, taken money from the fitness magazines while signing their legislation and running against the labor unions, and appointed the creature from the deep lagoon, the utilities' woman on the PUC, as his chief of staff..

How long does this have to go on before we know he is public enemy number one?

When we think about it, we know it already, and the people ought to contact their legislators and tell them, no more. No more to such cheezy ideas. No more to toll roads. No more to Republicans who love only the rich. No more to sleazy European ideas or to defenders of Southern California Edison and PG&E on the PUC.

Getting rid of Schwarzenegger is number one priority for this year.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

New York Times Report On Ashcroft Vastly Deepens Wiretapping Scandal

The New York Times report over the weekend that White House officials may have failed to get then-Attorney General John Ashcroft's approval, while he was in a hospital for pancreatis in 2004, for warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency seems on the face of it to vastly deepen the scandal over the wiretapping.

The story in Sunday's paper by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau may signify that even one of the most reactionary officials in the Administration had doubts about the legality of the wiretapping, which President Bush has insisted was needed in the War On Terror.

Parenthetically, there is a report this morning that Risen may leave the New York Times to return to the L.A. Times to work under its new co-managing editor, Doug Frantz. Risen may have been impatient over the NYT's decision to hold the original wiretapping story for a year rather than buck Administration protests at its printing. This seems to confirm other published reports that the executive editor of the NYT, Bill Keller, is turning out to be a weak sister.

Even with a milquetoast Congress, agitation is growing in WAshington at Bush Administration highhandedness in the entire question of tactics in the War on Terror.

Now, the President has begun to squirm under an almost daily barrage of new allegations that he lied outright over the wiretapping, telling people on one hand that he needed a court order to do it, and others that he did not.

The term is overworked, but this could be an impeachable offense. make no mistake.

In their Sunday story, Risen and Lichtblau reported that in Ashcroft's absense in hospital, his top deputy, James P. Comey, first refused to give his permission for the wiretapping. Top White House aides, the story said, then went direct to Ashcroft, only perhaps to find him taking the same position.

Tensions between the White House and the Justice Department in the Watergate scandal three decades ago foreshadowed the eventual ouster of Richard M. Nixon.

We're a long way from that here, as yet, but it's no longer the tompletely outlandish possibility it once was.

Just when we find out the Administration has done something really stupid, it seems it has done something even more stupid.

A Congressional hearing on this increasingly sordid mess is necessary. Make no mistake, this actually may be an impeachable offense.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Ellen Stern Harris, California Environmentalist, Dies At 76

Resilient idealists like Ellen Stern Harris, who died of cancer Monday, Jan. 2, at 76 in her home in Beverly Hills, and Marvin Braude, the L.A. City Councilman who died last month at 85, were great environmentalists who left Southern California better than they found it.

Harris, in particular, had an uphill battle. She was something of a gadfly, who kept up a steady drumfire of agitation and was seldom popular with her colleagues.

She won her spurs on the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, which I covered for the Times in the late 1960s at a time when she was a minority of one on one of these boards that seldom was very active in pursuing the regulatory goals for which it had been set up. Later, Harris fought succeessfully for establishment of the California Coastal Commission, upon which she later served.

In meeting after meeting of the water quality control group, Harris beat her head against a stone wall, and I have to confess that while sympathetic with her goals, I frequently felt she didn't have a clue about behaving in a way that would win friends and influence people. It didn't help that Ray Hertel, the paid director of the water quality control board, was a bureaucrat who seldom pushed hard for improvements.

But, fortunately, for her, she had the support of the Times, and the people of Los Angeles during her service. She often prevailed, because she could not be ignored.

In all the time I knew Harris, and it was for nearly 40 years, I never saw her discouraged. Even at the end, suffering with cancer, and lacking the vigor she once had, she was indefatigable.

California is really lucky to have a good many people who fight for the beauty and quality of this state. They sit in redwood trees until U.S. Senators finally work out deals that insure they will not be cut down. They insist on air quality, until at last the auto companies come around half willingly to developing appropriate smog controls and hybrid engines. They have preserved much of the coast and they strive for public access.

And the newspapers often support them. Although some politicians appointed corrupt officials to the Coastal Commission, by and large it has done its job.

Make no mistake about it, we owe more than we ever could pay in honors or popularity to the Ellen Stern Harrises and Marvin Braudes, They made all our lives better, and they certainly will be missed.

I notice that Myrna Oliver wrote the Harris obituary for the L.A. Times. Her last day on the job at the Times, I understand, is Jan. 16. Myrna always cared enough to honor those people who passed on and deserved to be remembered. Now, she will be remembered, and I wonder whether the Times staff will carry on her worthy tradition.

Monday, January 02, 2006

L.A. Times Sports Constricts Bowl Coverage, A Sign of Tribune Co.

Written from San Carlos, California --

The Los Angeles Times on Jan. 1 had a special sports section on the bowl games, but it was almost entirely restricted to the Rose Bowl, running article upon article on USC v. Texas, as if no other bowl game really counted.

But as a Notre Dame fan, I was bitterly disappointed that there was no article by a Times writer on the Fiesta Bowl, only the fifth time in the history of college football that Notre Dame has played Ohio State. (An article did appear in the Jan. 2 issue, however).

The series is tied two games to two. The 1935 game was one of the greatest games in history, when the Irish scored three times in the fourth quarter to come from behind and beat Ohio State 18-13.

But the main point I want to make is that, undoubtedly to save money, the LAT has kept most of its sportwriters at home this year, and provided precious little coverage of the other bowl games.

Always until this year, there was fairly extensive coverage of all Notre Dame games in the L.A. Times. This year, with coverage more and more constricted, sometimes there was only a single paragraph. And the Times doesn't write any more about Ivy League football at all.

This is a shame and a disgrace, and it is not the only way we notice, day by day, that the Times has cut back, also providing less coverage of the San Francisco Bay Area, the rest of California. etc.

It's not only the editorial pages that have been dumbed down.

The Times' consumer coverage has been poor for a long time, and now the Times doesn't even print the names of companies that are miscreants on many occasions.

We saw that yesterday when Steve Lopez told how $2,000 had been stolen out of his bank account, and how the bank wouldn't restore the money. But he wouldn't name the bank. He said it was because he didn't want to put unfair pressure on the bank as a columnist.

This is horseshit. A bank who refuses to reimburse a customer when $2,000 is stolen out of his account deserves to have public pressure put on it through bad publicity. The customers of that bank ought to withdraw their money and close their accounts and do what Lopez vows to do, move to another bank that is honest with its customers.

When Lopez won't name corporations that don't play fair with their customers, he is shortchanging the readers of the Times and it raises the question whether this was his choice, or the choice of cowardly editors afraid of losing their jobs if they offend the pro-business Tribune owners, which are quite simply a disgrace to the news business.

In the sports special bowl section, we don't see Notre Dame. And we don't find out the name of the bank who stole Lopez's money. It is indeed a dosgrace. amd mew signs, as 2006 begins, that the Times isn't the paper it once was.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Six "Journalists Of The Year," 2005

Not in order of merit, but simply in alphabetical order, here are my six journalists of the year:

AARON BROWN, CNN, although dismissed from his position as a nightly news anchor, Brown's broadcasts in the immediate wake of Hurricane Katrina were among the first to recognize the enormity of the storm, and Brown was the first to accurately and precisely say that the government was "overwhelmed" by the aftermath. Also, Brown was known for his full, humanitarian appreciation, too uncommon among news broadcasters and other journalists, of the barbarism of America's enemies in the War On Terror. A sensitive, intellectual questioner of the facts, and always a professional, Brown deserved better than he got from CNN.

JOHN BURNS, NEW YORK TIMES, the paper's restrained, careful, comprehensive Baghdad correspondent, provided coverage of the Iraqi war that was without peer. He was always fair to the United States and to others in the multi-dimensional conflict. With his long Middle Eastern background, he appreciated the complexity of the region's problems and conveyed them in unsparing language.

STEVE LOPEZ, LOS ANGELES TIMES. In a rough year for the Times in the grip of the costcutting Tribune Co., Lopez stood out as a distinguished columnist, both profound and humorous. His week on skid row, his sympathy with the underdogs of all kinds and his steadfast opposition to the political chicanery of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Special Election, made him extremely respected. A journalist's journalist, he was certainly the L.A. Times' Man Of The Year.

JEAN MESERVE, CNN, was on the spot in New Orleans on the day after the hurricane and was the first to report extensively on the consequences of the levee breaks, and, particularly, the people trapped in their homes and the inadequacy of rescue efforts. She helped Aaron Brown on the poignant, landmark CNN coverage of the terrible Katrina disaster.

JUDITH MILLER, NEW YORK TIMES. She had the courage to resist the squalid special prosecutor in the CIA leak case that marked government efforts against a free press, and served 85 days in federal jail, before her source liberated her from her obligations to keep his name private. Reviled by colleagues and her own weak boss, Bill Keller, Miller never lost her integrity, and will be more appreciated as efforts to squelch the press continue. More than an excellent journalist, she was a hero and found glory in 2005. Like Aaron Brown, she lost her job, but was a top professional.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC. His persistent work on Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, both in New Orleans during the storm, and then on repeated returns to the city afterwards, his humanitarian sympathy with the downtrodden victims of the storm, made him the most successful network news anchor in his first full year as the broadcaster of NBC Nightly News. Unflappable, energetic, a frequent traveler, he held his audience and distinguished his network. He too was fair to the United States and its soldiers in the Iraqi war.