Wednesday, May 31, 2006

FitzSimons Grasping For Continued Control In Tribune Stock Buyback

The announcement by the Tribune Co. that it intends to buy back up to $2.4 billion of its stock has all the looks of another selfish move by the grasping CEO, Dennis FitzSimons.

There are elements of this plan that could have a severe adverse impact on the Los Angeles Times, which FitzSimons has treated consistently badly.

For one thing, the buyback is said to involve another $200 million in cost cutbacks, layoffs, and so forth. There have already been destructive layoffs at the Times and other Tribune newspapers. Further layoffs could well be devastating to a product which has already suffered greatly in the Tribune ownership.

The last thing that motivates FitzSimons is serving the California public with a high-quality newspaper.

Also, in the Joseph Menn story in today's L.A. Times, it is revealed that some of the stock buyback will be from the Chicago Tribune Foundation, which nonetheless will retain its 13.7% share of the voting Tribune stock. FitzSimons heads the foundation as well as the Tribune Co., and this represents, as reported last week, a conflict of interest which fortifies his control.

Although stories in the LAT and NYT report that some Tribune television stations may be sold, it seems highly likely that FitzSimons has every intent to keep control of the L.A. Times, despite the fact there are reports of local interests seeking to restore the paper to local control.

Menn says in today's story, "One analyst described the moves as a 'preemptive strike' against any demands from unhappy stockholders to break up the company or sell it." One thing we can be sure of is that FitzSimons who has increased his own salary while laying off hundreds of Tribune Co. employees, will be acting in his own interests.

Another possibly significant element in the developing situation at Tribune Co., is the fact that pursuant to the sale of Times-Mirror Co. to the Tribune, 12% of the stock was left in the hands of the Chandler family, the former owners of Times-Mirror.

The three Chandler family members on the Tribune board have said nothing publicly. But they could well be crucial in any resale of the L.A. Times. No one outside the company now knows what they may be thinking, but the Chandler family has always been interested in the value of its investments, and the value of Tribune stock has slid 40% in the last two years. The family may now feel it could do better under new owners.

Under these circumstances, it might be friendly to a sale, and that might help explain FitzSimons' desperate control move, which had the effect of raising the stock price by about three points, but at the same time resulted in a downgrading of the Tribune's debt rating.

One would like to think the Chandler members of the Tribune board could have some residual loyalty to California, and might not like the way the Chicago interests have been treating the Times. But maybe that is an unrealistically hopeful assessment.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Bad Days In The Mideast, Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon

The last two days have been bad in the varying wars in the Middle East, and all told, one can't escape the impression that the violence is intensifying, and easily can further.

In Iraq, the advent of the new government has not brought so much as a glimmering of progress. Killings, many of them of a sectarian nature, continue. Just yesterday, two more journalists were killed, and we read this morning that the journalistic death toll, which has reached 71, now exceeds that of World War II. Meanwhile, there is talk of the U.S. actually increasing troop levels, as it has quietly in Afghanistan. Just last week, additional U.S. troops were sent into Iraq from the reserve levels in Kuwait.

About 1,500 new troops, according to reports today, are being sent to Ramadi, where deadly terrorists hold sway, as they did two years ago in Falluja. That situation was finally improved somewhat by a U.S. Marine assault. Today, Ramadi may require even stronger action. It is not too much to envision a day when the civilian population of that city should be given 48 hours to evacuate the city, which could then be razed by B-52s. Creation of cordon sanitaires may be necessary in Iraq.

In Afghanistan, a wreck in an American military convoy sparked widespread rioting, the worst since the war there began, in Kabul. There are reports that at least in one instance, U.S. troops opened fire on a mob. The New York Times says 14 were killed, and a nighttime curfew reimposed.

The Taliban clearly sees an opportunity in the takeover by NATO forces of part of the U.S. fighting role in southern Afghanistan. There have recently been French, Canadian and British deaths in the fighting, and the Canadian prime minister has just changed his policy to allow greater coverage of Canadian war deaths in Afghanistan. Fortunately, so far, everyone seems to realize the dire consequences of allowing the evil Taliban to come back to power in Afghanistan, and that's not going to happen. But the war there is growing, and the privileged sanctuary the Taliban has in Pakistan is not helping. The Pakistani government is also preoccupied with a rebellion in Baluchistan, an area which borders on Iran and that gives it an excuse for not doing anything to crush the Taliban on its own territory, if it can be assumed to want an excuse, which may not actually be the case.

The Karzai government seems to be dead in the water, not undertaking the reforms which are so necessary in that country. The strains of Islam in Afghanistan are among the most barbaric existing anywhere. And somewhere in the vicinity, perhaps on the Pakistani side of the border, is Osama bin Laden, a menace until he is eradicated.

In Lebanon, meanwhile, two days ago, there was a serious clash between rocket-wielding Hezbollah, using longer range weapons to fire on Northern Israel, and the Israelis, which are determined not to let the situation there get further out of hand.

Lebanon has always failed to put the quietus on the Iran-backed guerrillas of Hezbollah, and it has failed to honor the agreement under which Israel pulled its forces out of southern Lebanon in exchange for pledges of peace on its northern border. United Nations forces too have proved as worthless in keeping the peace there as they have in many other places, just last week in East Timor, where the Australians have had to take over what should have been U.N. responsibilities. The U.N., as is so often the case, is part of the problem, not the solution. It does not stand for anything worthwhile.

Lebanon was not taught a lesson, as it should have been, when it allowed the Iranians to orchestrate the taking of American hostages there, an early episode in the aggressive conduct of Islamic fundamentalists.

All in all, as I said, the prospects are anything but good.

It is disquieting also to read that British academics, the same kind of idiots who helped Hitler in the early 1930s by saying they would not fight for God and Country, are now trying to launch a boycott of Israel, because Israel has the temerity to defend itself. There is something rotten to the core with these feeble-minded intellectuals.

Monday, May 29, 2006

No Endorsement For Lee Baca, An Incompetent

One of the most important aspects of elections in our democratic system is to put on pressure for change. Even if incumbents have only minor opposition, whatever votes are cast against them are valuable in situations where the incumbents have not been doing their jobs. Just as a minority of shareholders can put pressure on a recalcitrant CEO, so a minority of votes can often induce politicians to sit up and take notice.

These facts are particularly important this year in the June 6 primary in relation to Sheriff Lee Baca. As violence continues to reverberate in the sprawling Los Angeles County prison system, he has not only failed to quell it, he hasn't even done very much about it.

The L.A. Times had a shocking article Sunday, by police investigative reporters Matt Lait and Scott Glover, about the 43-year-old man who went into jail for drunk driving and was dead five days later, the victim of an apparent beating and failure to provide medical treatment for his diabetes.

A picture of the guard who is suspected of beating him ran in the story, and Lait and Glover reported this woman has been the suspect in other beatings over the years.

The question that has to be asked, that the electorate of Los Angeles County, cannot avoid, is why this woman has not been removed from the guard ranks long ago.

Yet aside from a lot of talk, nothing is happening to improve conditions in the jails. The sheriff has done little but talk, and the Board of Supervisors, to which Baca is responsible, has not forced him to undertake systematic reforms. From racial fighting in the jails, to mistreatment of odd or sick prisoners, we see one outrage after another. Budgetary problems are not an adequate excuse.

There's something badly wrong with the Sheriff's office in this county, when one considers the reigns of Pete Pitchess, Sherman Block and Lee Baca. All were rogue officers of one kind or another. Yet none of them had substantial opposition when they were first elevated (Block died before Baca was elected), and all had only scattered opposition for reelection.

Somehow, that has to change. Even if most people who are in jail deserve being there, society has an obligation to see they are treated fairly once they are there. Sheriffs who cannot provide that should be retired.

I wrote just recently, in a followup to a column in the Times by Steve Lopez, that the supervisors are not adequately doing their jobs, and called for votes against the two incumbents who are running June 6, Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina. The unquestionably intelligent Yaroslavsky in particular has been trying, but after his reelection, for which he is an odds-on favorite, he should try harder. Molina and the Sheriff, Baca, I have to say, have few redeeming characteristics.

So every negative vote in these races might do some good. We've reached the point where a voter two-by-four to the side of these officeholders' heads might at least shock some sense into them.


Sunday, May 28, 2006

Solomon Moore And Laura King, Brave Middle East Reporters

It's fitting on Memorial Day that we think not only of the thousands of brave troops who have defended America on foreign battlefields, but of the brave reporters who cover the strife in the Middle East. They too are serving the USA and our great democracy.

The L.A. Times has been fortunate to have outstanding journalists both in Iraq and the Holy Land, where the struggle is related to life and death international issues as well.

In that respect, the work of two Times reporters has been particularly noteworthy in recent weeks.

I remember Solomon Moore, when he was a young reporter in the San Fernando Valley, among the first to delve deeply into the insurance issues that grew out of the Northridge earthquake. Eventually, Moore moved to the downtown staff, and then served a brief stint in East Africa, all the way developing the skills he has employed so importantly in Iraq.

In a place which has been a hell on earth, with assassinations, kidnappings and suicide bombings, Moore somehow remains idealistic and caring. He has an eye for significant things, as any good reporter. His story this past week on corruption in Iraq was superb with its indelible depiction of the teeming traffic of Baghdad, thousands of cars traversing the city's streets, one third of them stolen.

The Times has had many fine reporters in Baghdad, including Patrick McDonnell, Michael Smith, Jim Rainey, John Daniszewski and others who have come right out of the City Room or very frequently from other Times bureaus throughout the world. None of them are forced to go. They all have put themselves in danger voluntarily, and it is truly dangerous. Scores of reporters of various publications and the television networks have been killed or wounded in Iraq. Yet they go. And they are assisted by an ancillary staff that the assistant foreign editor, David Lauter, who was recently in Baghdad, says numbers about 40, guards, translators, drivers, all assisting in bringing us the coverage that is read with such great interest every morning here in Los Angeles.

Also admirable is the work of Laura King in the cauldron of episodic violence which is the mark of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is taking place in a small country. One can leave Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, and be in Gaza, the seat of the present Hamas government, within a couple of hours. King is everywhere, where ever there are developments of interest to the public, and the headlines all over the world are of the Middle East, where it is not too much to say, international affairs are often focused.

The thing about King is that she has maintained an objectivity that allows her to be fair to both sides, and as a reader, I have great confidence that what she is telling me is as close to the facts as any reporter could muster. The Times has a long tradition of comprehensive coverage of the conflict. She is the latest and one of the finest upholders of that tradition.

So on this memorial day weekend, I want to pay tribute to Moore, King and the others. They deserve it, for keeping us all informed.

(Just the day after this was written, a CBS soundman, James Brolan, 42, and cameraman Paul Douglas, 48, were killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, and CBS correspondent Kimberly Dozier was critically injured. What a grim illustration of the above. The cowardly suicide bombing brought to 71 the number of journalists killed covering the Iraqi war.)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Endorsements In The June 6 Primary

The race between State Controller Steve Westly and State Treasurer Phil Angelides for the Democratic nomination for governor, is so nasty, with so many charges and counter charges about which special interests are backing whom, that in that contest I can't rationally decide who to endorse. I once thought Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would be turned out of office in November. I'm now not so sure. Just today the L.A. Times has a front page story about Westly taking campaign contributions and then seeking to save Barnes and Noble $22 million in taxes. But Angelides too has been tagged with taking special interest money.

These are endorsements I will make:

U.A. Senate. Sen. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, the incumbent Democrat, is strongly recommended for reelection. She is one of the most influential senators and she has served this state well in Washington. Her independence is noteworthy and her honesty unquestioned.

Lt. Governor: JOHN GARAMENDI has vast experience and has been determined in all his jobs, in the Legislature and the Insurance Commissioner's office, to serve the public interest. He is the best choice for the Democratic nomination. State Sen. TOM MCCLINTOCK is the best choice for the Republican nomination.

Democratic Attorney General: JERRY BROWN has served the state as Secretary of State and two terms as governor (1975-83). More recently, he has served as mayor of Oakland. Now, at 68, he is trying to become attorney general. From a fabled political family, Brown has personality quirks, but he is the best choice for this important office.

Congress: I back the incumbent representative, JANE HARMAN, for renomination and reelection in this South Bay district. Head of the House Intelligence Committee, Harman represents the Democratic center and has been invaluable in Washington.

State Assembly: In my own home district, I support MIKE FEUER for the Democratic nomination. He was an outstanding Los Angeles City Councilman and will be just as good a legislator. His race with Democrat Abbe Land is heavily contested, with multiple mailings on both sides, but Feuer is, in my view, the better choice.

Board of Equalization: Assemblywoman JUDY CHU has distinguished herself in a number of jobs, the latest of which has been chairwoman of the important Assembly Appropriations Committee. I have known her since she was leading Olympics-related demonstrations on the UCLA campus, and this will be the latest step in a promising career.

Friday, May 26, 2006

LAT And NYT Editorials on the Jefferson Office Raid Diverge

A friend of mine today found the Los Angeles Times editorial on the raid on Rep. William J. Jefferson's office to be "curious."

The L.A. Times editorial said it was "outrageous" that the leaders of both major parties in Congress had objected to what it termed "a lawful FBI search," and declared President Bush's attempt to compromise the matter by ordering a cooling off period, during which the seized records would be sealed for 45 days, "even more outrageous."

The New York Times editorial takes a far more sensible position, more in accord with traditional American values, when it declares, "Compared with the enormous issues at hand, the matter of Rep. William Jefferson is small potatoes...Federal investigators have managed to prosecute many other officials for corruption over the last 200-odd years without ever barging into Congressional offices in the process. The danger of abuse with this kind of activity is enormous, especially with a president and an attorney general whose grasp for power seems to have no limits. They cannot be trusted to keep legitimate police activity from turning into political prosecution."

I share the New York Times point of view. As another friend of mine told me today, the Justice Department had other important avenues open to it, before it decided to send FBI agents to Jefferson's office, barring both Capitol Police and the House Sergeant of Arms from so much as monitoring the search. Prosecutors could have summoned a grand jury and compelled Jefferson to appear before it. He could, in the end, still be prosecuted if evidence and facts were to so warrant. In violating tradition, the department, under Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales, seems to have been trying to create a precedent which could be extremely destructive of the Separation of Powers and the Bill of Rights.

I don't want to be a shrinking violet in this matter. To me, the L.A. Times position reflects the intellectual shallowness of the present editorial pages and shows once again that those pages ought to be under the control of the editor, Dean Baquet, rather than the Chicago-lining publisher, Jeffrey Johnston. It continues to fall short of the quality standards we are right to expect at the L.A. Times.

The L.A. Times editorial, in a phrase, has lost sight of the forest for the trees. It ignores the context in which this raid took place. It fails to realize that prosecutors' processes must yield to the sublime stature of the Constitution. It would abandon the traditional way of doing things for temporary expediency.

I value the comments that are posted on my blog, and so I respect the question raised today by an anonymous reader as to how I reconcile my staunch advocacy of the war against Islamic terrorism with a position favoring civil liberties here at home. "You can't have it both ways, pal," he remarks.

Let me try to answer. I support the war unreservedly, despite mistakes that have been made and were acknowledged yesterday by President Bush and Prime Minister Blair, because democracies have the right to defend themselves. Our enemies, the Arab terrorists, are trying to destroy freedom throughout the world, including our own. This justifies the strongest measures, and we are taking them. But it does not justify here in the U.S. violating the Constitution and its Bill of Rights. Just as Lincoln took draconian steps to defend the Union in the Civil War, not to abuse democracy but, ultimately, to defend it.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales Emerges As A Menace

It is not every day that the leaders of both political parties in the highly partisan U.S. House of Representatives join together, as Republican House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi did yesterday, to castigate an Administration.

But the issue is a portentous one--the first search by federal agents of a congressional office in the history of the American Republic. The raid at the offices of Rep. William J. Jefferson, Democrat of Louisiana, on Saturday night could well have been an attempt by a power-grabbing Administration to set a precedent that would threaten Congress and immensely enhance the power of the Executive branch for years to come.

Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales has undertaken two initiatives in recent days that should cause concern among all Americans who support our democratic system of government.

Gonzales first raised the possibility that the Justice Department would prosecute the New York Times for revealing that the Administration has undertaken a wide ranging domestic wiretapping of millions of phone calls. Then, he sent FBI agents swooping down on Jefferson's office, supposedly in an attempt to search for evidence he had taken bribes. Almost certainly, he would not have spoken and acted as he did without the approval of President George W. Bush.

In both instances, Gonzales has gone much too far. If he persists in his position, and specifically refuses to return the papers seized at Jefferson's office, then he ought to be removed as attorney general, and if the President officially supports him, then impeachment of the President must be considered.

However, on Thursday Bush ordered the Justice Department to seal the records FBI agents had seized for 45 days. This was welcomed by Hastert and Pelosi as a cooling off period to allow discussions. In the Dubai ports controversy, such a cooling off period led to a broad Administration retreat. We can hope the same thing will happen in this case. But it may only happen, if Congress sticks to its position, and does so loudly.

It seems clear, however, that the Administration has used both the War on Terror and the unpopularity of Congress in many polls as excuses for taking steps that violate the Constitution.

It certainly would be against the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights, stating that no law shall abridge the freedom of the press, to prosecute the New York Times or any newspaper for what it has printed. Freedom of the press is one of the bulwarks of American democracy. Without it, indeed, there is no democracy. Yet since its infamous prosecution of Judith Miller, the Administration has shown it cares not a jot for it.

Similarly, such a search of a congressional office is something that threatens the separation of powers written into the Constitution.

I do not doubt the country is beset by both international terrorists and congressional corruption. But the means used to combat them must be consistent with the Constitution.

It's beginning to appear this Administration is high-handedly trying to alter the traditional American system, and that cannot be permitted. It is an issue of the highest moment. It is much more important than any unpopularity of Congress. That cannot and should not be used as an excuse.

I once had a professor at Dartmouth, Arthur Wilson, who remarked in a humanities class, "Just remember gentlemen, everything the Nazis did was strictly legal, according to German law." It was a reminder of something we all ought to be aware of, and that is that the law can easily be distorted to commit outrages. That is what the Bush Administration is doing now.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Tribune CEO FitzSimons Caught In Conflict of Interest

The CEO of the Tribune Co., the unsavory Dennis FitzSimons, has let the company, including such valuable properties as the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Cubs, slide, while protecting himself with his own high salary and control over a foundation which owns 13.7% of Tribune stock and is under his iron fisted control.

The Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation keeps 97% of its portfolio in Tribune Co. stock, contrary to the policy of most corporate foundations which wisely diversify their portfolios, all five of its directors are Tribune Co. executives, and the foundation stock is always voted with management. This makes a hostile takeover of the Tribune Co. much more difficult.

Meanwhile, under FitzSimon's mismanagement, the Tribune stock has fallen 47% since 2004, to the $27 level, and the foundation's giving to various charities has declined 15% since 1999, while nationwide, corporate foundation giving has increased by 22%.

FitzSimon's ineptitude also has resulted in his newspapers over all suffering circulation and revenue declines. L.A. Times circulation is down 250,000. Even the Tribune television stations seem to have lost out in the ratings. Folks, he clearly is not a good businessman.

This is all according to a long article in Crain's Chicago Business analyzing the unhealthy situation, complete with multiple statements by philanthropic watchdogs and stock analysts who deplore what is going on. Some call FitzSimon's double role as head of the Tribune Co. and of the McCormick Foundation a clear conflict of interest.

The article was relayed to members of the Old Farts here in Los Angeles by e-mail as part of an impressive package of communications keeping up with developments in journalism. The directors of the Old Farts, the L.A. Times retired employees association, are doing more to fight Tribune mistreatment of the L.A. Times, than the Times staff has been able to do, and certainly what the Chandler family members of the Tribune board have been willing to do.

William Josephson, an aide for the regulation of charities to New York State's crusading attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, is quoted as saying, "Obviously, where the Tribune controls the board of the Tribune Foundation, the Tribune Foundation is not going to exercise the rights (as a shareholder) in a meaningful way."

So, it does nothing to prevent a rogue executive from running completely amok.

The situation in Chicago is so bad that the Cubs team is complaining that the Chicago Tribune is giving the team negative coverage. This would be like the Times sports section giving the Clippers negative coverage, which this past week it has not done. Fortunately for the Clippers, they are owned by Donald Sterling and not by the Tribune. The Clippers have had enough screw ups in their history without being saddled with Dennis FitzSimons.

This nightmare is compounded by FitzSimons' refusal to entertain reasonable offers to buy back the Times, sold to the Tribune Co. in 2000, and restore it to local control. While increasing his own salary, he has laid off Times employees, not to mention the employees of other former Times-Mirror newspapers, such as the Baltimore Sun and Newsday. Times editor John Carroll quit in disgust last year and now
gives speeches assailing corporate ownership of newspapers.

FitzSimons is bad news for everyone but himself. This is quite a drama, and the seemingly helpless victims are the Times staff and the deprived readers in Los Angeles, among others. Somehow, we have to figure out how to get rid of this man and his minions before the paper is fatally weakened.

For the good of the people of Chicago, the Cubs should be sold as well. After all, the team has not won a World Series since 1908 and probably won't while FitzSimons lets one part of the company, the Chicago Tribune, give the Tribune Co.'s own team rotten coverage.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Al Martinez Holds A Book Party, And Hugs His Talented Grandson

Any college admissions director can tell you that one of the most important, perhaps the most important, factor in deciding which students to admit is proof of their writing ability. Just study Yale's admissions, and you will note that high school newspaper editors have a leg up. The school knows that they will be among its best scholars.

I thought of this on Sunday while attending the book party at Dutton's in Brentwood for L.A. Times columnist Al Martinez's 11th book, about his late dog, Barkley. It is published by Angel City Press.

Martinez read from his eloquent prologue to the book and signed copies for attendees at the party, and there were some other speakers as well, including the illustrious Norman Corwin, now 96 years old.

But certainly a high point of the gathering, under cloudy skies on a rather chilly day, was Martinez's loving introduction of his 12-year-old grandson, Jeffrey, and the big hug he gave him.

Jeffrey, who Martinez has written about in his column, is the author, as a 10-year-old, of a poem about the dog that Martinez runs on the last page of his book.

I don't want to steal the thunder from either Martinez or his grandson, but the concluding stanza of Jeffrey's "If Once You've Had A Dog," reads:

"Oh, you won't know why
And you can't say how
Such a change upon you came
But once you've had a dog
You'll never be the same."

I've known other children who could write, sometimes as easily as they talk, and it is a blessing. Indeed. I knew a young girl of eight who wrote a story printed in the London Times entitled "Reporters Are Too Nosy." It was my daughter, Kathy, who had gone with me to the Lake Placid Winter Olympics and met London Times reporter John Hennessy there. He invited her to write it.

The secretary to my great doctor, Ray Matthews, the cardiologist who brought me safely through my recent illness, tells me she has a 13-year-old daughter who can write better than she can.

This is a wonderful sign of future academic prowess, and it is worth cultivating when teachers find that a student has that ability in this age of television and the Internet. Perhaps, it's not easy to teach. It has to be some innate ability to communicate.

It usually also goes with fine reading abilities. A child who can write is usually a child who reads extensively. And it can be a mark too of the parents' love of education, and reflects a desire on their parts to open their child to a variety of early experiences.

Martinez is appropriately proud of his grandson.

Also, since we're talking about him, I should not lose the opportunity to say that Al Martinez is indefatigable. In his late 70s, after heart surgery, he is not only still writing, but he's traveling. He told me, while signing my book, of his plan to travel to India next January or February with his wife, Cinelli.

It reminds me of the great New York Times writer, Harrison Salisbury, who traveled to China and wrote the book, "The Long March," I believe in his 80s. Al Martinez is truly a wonderful man.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Reporters' Relations With Politicians, It Varies

At a book party yesterday, I ran into Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who was absolutely furious with me for writing in a blog last week that people should vote against him for reelection.

I did so, without any personal antipathy toward Zev, who I've gotten along with peaceably for years, and also without any hope that his minor opposition could conceivably win. But I do think Yaroslavsky has been in office for a long time, and I'm sure that, with his intelligence and energy, he could find a second career that would make him even happier than his present one.

The relationship between reporters and politicians, in my experience, can be both fractious and friendly. My best relationship ever in state politics was with the late Jesse Unruh, but I also got along well with Ronald Reagan, Pat Brown, Ken Cory, John Garamendi and others. Less so with Jerry Brown, who had lived across the hall from me in Berkeley when I was studying for a Master's Degree, and who, later, may have presumed he could count on me. When he was governor, he became impatient with me, remarking that "Reich can take a thread and weave a suit." But we have a passable relationship now, and I'm pretty sure to support his bid for state Attorney General.

I was on the same wave length with Unruh, and we were on such familiar terms that we could talk very candidly with one another. When Jerry Brown's parole board was talking about freeing Sirhan Sirhan, the Palestinian terrorist who assassinated Robert Kennedy, I called Unruh up and asked him whether he was going to oppose it. "Right now," said Unruh, who may have saved Sirhan's life the night of the assassination. "I'm going to go right across the street and can assure you that Sirhan will not be released." He's in prison, still.

I was hopeful for awhile that Unruh would come back and run for governor, as he had in 1970. But he patiently explained to me, "If I ran again for governor, I'd have to stop drinking, marry Chris, and be nice to the press, and I don't want to do any of those things." Later, Unruh did marry Chris, but he died at only 64, from prostate cancer. My 1987 obituary in the Times was possibly the best I ever wrote.

With Reagan, I was not close, but we were friendly, and I particularly had great respect for the political acumen of his wife, Nancy. She helped conjure up his use of the Panama Canal issue that enabled him to come back in the 1976 primaries, sweeping the South and nearly besting President Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination. I used to talk with Nancy Reagan about campaign strategy, which we most often agreed about. Reagan, when he was governor, would occasionally give me a ride on the state plane back to Los Angeles on weekends. I will always remember the great stories he told, the best about how he had gotten the part of George Gipp in the film, "Knute Rockne, All American." According to Reagan, the producer of this film at first didn't want to give him the part, because of his slight build. Reagan said he had gone out and rented a football uniform, showed up in the producer's office and this time got the part. It gave him his most useful political nickname, the Gipper. When he became President and was the victim of a foul assassination attempt, his brave response proved he had become like the galvanic Gipp. he had once portrayed.

With Pat Brown, I used to have many happy lunches, during which we would discuss state politics. On the night President Nixon fired Archibald Cox in 1973, I telephoned him at home, and he aptly predicted that Nixon had cut his own political throat, that the political pressure would get to him and that he wouldn't last long in the Presidency. Nixon resigned just 10 months later. I used Pat's prediction in a roundup story of California reaction to the Saturday night massacre.

I'll always remember, as a young reporter working for UPI in 1962 the respectful and emotional welcome reporters gave Brown on the tarmac at a Sacramento airport just after he defeated Richard Nixon in the governor's race. Reporters loved Brown. As Times state political columnist George Skelton has said, he was probably California's greatest governor. My best memory of him was when he went out on the Capitol steps to greet an evangelical minister who had led a cavalcade to Sacramento to demand that Brown order the students at UC Berkeley to halt plans to have Frank Wilkinson, a noted left winger, speak on the campus. The governor was blunt: "As long as I'm governor of this state," he said, "the students can invite anyone they want to speak on the Berkeley campus."

With Ken Cory, I started out very negative. I didn't like his campaign ad, that he was the man the oil companies feared the most, because I didn't believe it could be true. And later I thought Cory something of a charming rogue. But I respected his political judgment about how elections would go, and we often talked. He was one of my favorite insiders on what was going on in California politics. Cory also died of prostate cancer, and I went to see him at his home in the Sierra foothill town of Loomis shortly before he died. By that time, he and I were fast friends.

Similarly, I have always gotten along well with John Garamendi, regarding him as an honest man. It's too bad he comes from such a small town that he has never been able to develop the contacts, or the reputation with the public, he would need to become governor.

Sometimes, however, I did not become more friendly with politicians as time went on. I covered Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 presidential primary campaign, but concluded toward the end that he was a rather bitter personality, not always consistent. And, after giving Jimmy Carter such favorable coverage early on, I later on felt he was an awful President, unable to decide which side of the bed to get up on each morning. After his Presidency was over, he came to Los Angeles occasionally, but I never went to see him.

On April 25, 1980, I was standing at the desk in the Lausanne Palace Hotel when I heard on the BBC that Carter's rescue mission for the American hostages in Iran had failed. Juan Antonio Samaranch, the International Olympic Committee president, came by at that very moment and asked me what I thought it meant. "It means," I boomed out, "that Ronald Reagan will be President of the United States." This turned out to be right on the money. Not all my political predictions are.

One time, Lloyd Bentsen, the Texas senator, came out to California when he was running for President, and when he got back to Washington after the weekend, told the Times' Congressional correspondent, John Averill, that he had "run into the worst son of a bitch" as a reporter he had ever encountered. Averill immediately said, "It had to be either Reich or (Richard) Bergholz." Fortunately for me, Bentsen said it had been Bergholz.

I had a difficult relationship with the touchy Bergholz, though we became friends toward the end of his life. One time, I climbed on Reagan's plane in a Florida primary campaign, when Bergholz was covering Reagan, and I asked Reagan whether there was anything I could take back to California for him, since I was flying home that night. "Bergholz," Reagan said. He found Bergholz as difficult as I did.

Well, those are a few memories. I'm not sure Yaroslavsky will stay angry at me. Fundamentally, I respect him, and he is very good at calling elections. He told me weeks before the end of the Recall campaign that he was sure Arnold Schwarzenegger would be elected governor, retiring Gray Davis, and he was right.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Barbaro Breaks Down at Preakness, and NYT Triumphs

Truly unexpected big news is not that common, but when it happens, as in the Sputnik launching by the Soviet Union in 1957, it is vital for newspapers worthy of note to play it for all it's worth.

We see that illustrated this morning in the New York Times play of the Preakness story, the breakdown by the favorite Barbaro in the first seconds of the race with what turned out to be a compound fracture of the horse's right hind leg. The NYT played it on Page 1 of its A-section, with two more major stories in Sports.

Also, NBC's on-scene coverage of the tragic event, was superb. In the NYT's television story this morning, by Richard Sandomir, Sam Flood, NBC's producer for the Preakness and in the past a producer at the Nascar auto races, is quoted as saying, "Nascar always taught me to have a crisis plan, and this was a crisis." He immediately redirected key reporters to the scene, and by the end of the broadcast the network had secured an interview with the on-call veterinarian at the track, confirming that the injury was significant and possibly life-threatening. Announcer Bob Costas, on the victory stand, caught the prevailing emotion when he described the outcome of the race as a sad moment.

The Los Angeles Times did not measure up. It has a Barbaro picture on Page 1, but it played the actual story back in Sports. It had a perfectly suitable column by Bill Dwyre, the former sports editor, but it failed to put that on Page 1, where it should have been.

This is the latest instance in which the New York Times displayed for the world to see the hair-trigger mindset of its editors. They knew how to play a story when the Titanic struck an iceberg and sunk nearly a century ago, they knew it at the time of Sputnik, and they still know it. They are nearly always ready for an emergency. They bannered the Titanic and Sputnik, and they played Barbaro very prominently. They wrote excellent headlines on all three stories. The banner on the Titanic sinking was one of the great headlines in newspaper history.

Alas, that is not the case at the L.A. Times. The editors decided to play Sputnik at the bottom of Page 1. They allowed the Washington Post to eclipse their coverage of the Robert Kennedy, assassination, printing a story the next morning that was inferior to that of the Post, despite the fact the Times had a three-hour time advantage.

Of course, I'm not privy to the LAT editors' mind processes on Saturday afternoon. Not everyone may agree with me, but I think the right decision would have been to go with the story as the leading news event of the day, which means Page 1.

There are some paragraphs in both the New York Times lead story, by Joe Drape, and Dwyre's Los Angeles Times column, which are truly memorable in their poignant descriptions of what happened to Barbaro.

Drape wrote, in just the third paragraph, "As the eight remaining horses disappeared into the first turn of a race that Bernardini eventually won, the real drama was unfolding in the opening straightaway. Barbaro was holding his awkwardly bent leg aloft as an equine ambulance raced to his aid."

And later on, in Drape's story, he wrote, "This was one of those afternoons that everybody dreads. It underlines the fragile nature of sports, especially a sport whose primary players are animals."

Also, Drape wrote, "Although it may sound insensitive, many owners will point to this type of accident to rationalize why they race their horses lightly, why they don't enter their horses in Triple Crown events they feel they cannot win, and why they decided to breed their horses at the mere hint of an injury. It also lends weight to the argument that contemporary horses may be faster, but are more fragile."

Dwyre also has his moments today. His lead was, "In the time it takes for two bones to break, like snapping your fingers twice, the 131st running of the Preakness turned from celebration to catastrophe...Oh my, a horse had broken down. Oh my, it couldn't be Barbaro, could it?"

And, "Almost hauntingly, the night before, over a dinner of Maryland crab, (jockey Alex} Solis had talked about the worse thing about horse racing, when he sees a horse break its leg...You see the pain in their eyes, the fear," he said. "It's awful."

I've always wondered in horse racing how intelligent the horses were. How did they understand the race? What did they feel about it?

At Pimlico race track in Baltimore, yesterday, one could not but feel for the horse. What a tragedy!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

U.S. Should Largely Ignore What U.N. Says To Do

Its social agencies, such as the World Health Organization and UNICEF are exceptions, but by and large the United Nations is an unsuccessful and even corrupt institution which likes to lecture the United States on the War on Terror, but hasn't effectively stood up against genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia, Dar fur and elsewhere.

A UN "Committee Against Torture" is calling upon the U.S. to shut down the Guantanamo, Cuba, prison camp, but it has not a word to say about brutal sectarian killings in Iraq that are sending hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fleeing to other countries. It didn't say anything either when Afghanistan was trying to execute a man for the "crime" of converting to Christianity. It didn't chastise the King of Saudi Arabia when he ordered the pictures of all women removed from his country's newspapers. Its whole idea of human rights is highly selective, stacked against the Western democracies.

The UN "Human rights" bodies are a pack of hypocrites, if not positive scoundrels. Assuming they should continue to exist, and I even have my doubts about that, then the least the U.S. can do, is not to listen to them.

There has been extensive documentation about the corruption of the UN food for oil program in Iraq before the war, with kickbacks going to sundry officials and bystanders such as the son of Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General.

Need we state again, that the United States is doing a service to the world opposing Middle Eastern terrorists. It is perhaps less obvious that Guantanamo is the best means to do this, but in the absence of other palatable alternatives, Guantanamo should be kept open. Its prisoners include many dangerous people, who, if given the chance, would be flying airplanes and all their passengers into tall buildings, or the San Francisco Bay Bridge.

In the Middle East itself, the UN record is nothing short of atrocious. I believe this organization's desperate weakness is one of the major factors in keeping the Holy Land and other parts of the region in a constant state of turmoil. It has failed to side with those battling the terrorists, and it has failed to do anything material itself against them. As suicide bombings spread to new places, UN "human rights" bodies have done and said nothing.

It is worth recalling that the late Sen. Hiram Johnson of California, just before his death in 1945, was one of the few votes in the U.S. Senate against ratifying the charter that began the UN. Just like the League of Nations that preceded it, the UN has been paralyzed most of the time in terms of strong action to keep peace in the world. It is true it backed the U.S. in the Korean War, but this was only because Russia had, at that moment, withdrawn from UN affairs and the Communist regime in China had not yet displaced Taiwan as the Chinese representative there. Otherwise, even this, resistance to a blatant invasion, would have been vetoed.

Now, in the matter of the Iranian threat to obtain nuclear weapons, the UN is again paralyzed.

We cannot afford to make the same mistake Russia did and withdraw from an organization which, then, might take direct action against us. The U.S. veto there is an important safeguard.

But we should not, and we must not. listen to them or take their advice as to how to best defend America.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Oust Joe Hutchinson, His Redesign Has Been Bad For LAT

A bad design decision can stick with a publication for a long time. It was under Shelby Coffey that the L.A. Times unwisely went to a tabloid every Thursday in the Calendar section. Despite the fact, this makes Calendar less readable on Thursdays than on any other day, no one will own up to this being a bad decision, and going back to the standard Calendar format seven days a week

The Saturday Evening Post never recovered from a bad redesign. It vanished a short time later.

The problem with design at the L.A. Times recently has been the work of Joseph Hutchinson, the paper's "creative director." His extra summary page is a waste of space and the shoving of foreign news back to the end of section A has materially weakened the paper's daily presentation and, I believe, ultimately will threaten the status of the foreign bureaus.

Hutchinson needs to be sent back to Chicago and replaced with someone more in tune with the readers.

We see on every hand that decisions by Chicago toadies have weakened the paper. Just this morning, quotes emerge from former Sports Editor Bill Dwyre about the deleterious effects of cutting back the Sports section.

But Sports still does a good job of covering stories like the NBA playoffs. The diminishing of the role of foreign news in the paper, at a time when the U.S. is fighting two wars in the MIddle East, is more serious.

Coverage of certain important countries is sinking to the vanishing point. Just this week, an Islamic extremist murdered one judge and wounded several others in Turkey, because he didn't like a court decision keeping the curbs on religious fanaticism in the country in the matter of women's head scarfs. It rated only a brief in the Times. Since Douglas Frantz came home from Istanbul, Times coverage of that country, backsliding from the secular Ataturk period, has been very much diminished. Yet Turkey is worthy of frequent coverage. It is a vital part of the Mideast equation, with material effect on what happens in Iraq and on Islamic thinking worldwide.

The LAT has no fulltime correspondent in Afghanistan. The New York Times does, and the war there is the subject of more frequent reports in that newspaper.

It is true the L.A. Times has in recent weeks had some outstanding investigative stories, such as the ones on Kaiser Permanente and polygamists. But these could have gone forward with the same space and still kept Page A3 for news and foreign news at the beginning of Section A.

It is time to reevaluate changes encouraged by Hutchinson, and, I believe, to send him back East, where all dilettantes belong.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Time Magazine Gets A New ME, Amidst Sliding Circulation

Time magazine has some troubles, and it is getting a new managing editor, with Richard Stengel replacing Jim Kelly. The move comes as Time circulation has slid from 4.6 million down to about 4 million.

At the same time, it's revealed in today's New York Times that Time's superb investigative reporters, Donald Barlett and James Steele, are leaving the magazine due to what is called a budget squeeze. This, I think, is a serious mistake, since some of Time's best reports have been written by that duo.

Time does some things very well, such as its coverage in Iraq and the Middle East in general, and this week's excellent article on crime in New Orleans.

But I believe the overall product has tended to slip into too much gadgetry in recent years. Specifically, the magazine's editors are overly fond of these special issues, featuring celebrity essays on the most 100 influential people, and so forth. These essays are overly laudatory and I, frankly, am not fond of such lists, especially since they seem to change most names every year.

Right now, I'm taking less time to read Time than I used to. The articles are often less interesting toward the second half of the magazine, and there's entirely too much enthusiasm about business, businessmen and new Internet developments. Contrast, Time's approach to business with the more skeptical New York Times Business section, and you can see what I'm talking about. The L.A. Times business section runs well behind both, I have to say.

Under Kelly, managing editor for the last five years, Time's Person of the Year feature at the end of the year has deteriorated, moving away from people who had the most impact during the year, to pie-in-the-sky choices such as Bill Gates and Bono, this past year. Arab terrorists, who have made the world stand on end, have not cracked this devotion to business leaders that fit the editors' stereotypes. Maybe, the overall picture is too grim for the editors to stomach.

Of course, it should be conceded, the circulation losses, combined with advertising losses, may simply reflect less enthusiasm for the mainstream media on the part of readers who more and more use the Internet. The NYT article says use of the Time Web site has increased by a third in the last year. In my own case, though, I never go to the Time Web site. I much prefer reading what they have to say in the actual magazine.

The new managing editor comes out of the Web site management. Maybe, he will be more imaginative than the old one, and maybe even harder-nosed. The magazine could stand it. I daresay that Time has never recovered from the death of Henry Luce, a genius who knew what the public wanted. Subsequent heads of Time, Inc. have too often been clueless about what the reading public wants.

In the meantime, Time is touting prizes it has won for best magazine over 2 million circulation. These prizes cannot, however, overcome the impression that the magazine is not what it once was in important respects. And since the subscription price has risen steadily, the decline in circulation is really not surprising.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Opposing Stupidity: The Saudi King And L.A. Co. Supervisors

It may be necessary to send someone to yank the beard of the King of Saudi Arabia, after this stupid gentleman ordered Saudi newspapers to publish no more pictures of women. The Saudi kingdom is an offense against humanity when it follows policies of discrimination, and it seems to be getting worse, not improving. Perhaps, the king should be required to wear a dress for the next five years. Then, we might not have to see HIS picture in the papers.

It is high time we exhibit less patience than we have with the barbarians who dominate the Middle East, are charging robber baron prices for oil, and who have proved themselves unreliable. They are dangerous to us, and should not be the subject of understanding, but repugnance.

Just today an Iranian ayatollah called for annihilation of the West with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. Such people, such calls, represent incitement to murder, and they can and should be treated as the criminals they are. Action against them is needed before they unleash lethal weapons against American cities.

Another group, not as bad but whom we can still live without. is the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. As L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez points out today, the members waste public time and money passing meaningless congratulatory resolutions, while they should be debating and acting on the critical county problems of health, recidivism among released prisoners. the housing crisis and other issues about which they have accomplished essentially nothing for a long time.

It's almost impossible, it seems, to reject these people's reelection, because the opposition is comparatively unknown and poorly financed. But we have to start somewhere, and a good start would be to vote for other candidates than Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky, both standing for reelection in the June 6 primary. They have both outlived their usefulness as public servants. We need new blood at the county government level.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Andres Martinez Goes To China, After Cuba

Andres Martinez, editor of the L.A. Times editorial pages, had a good article on his recent trip to Cuba, and, I said so in a blog. But now, Martinez, a failure as an editorial writer, has gone to China as well, and it raises the question of how the Tribune can afford to send him around the world on trips when it says it can't afford to support the Times in other particulars.

His column on Shanghai was not nearly as informative as the one on Cuba.

If only Martinez would learn how to write an incisive editorial and hire a decent stable of Op Ed Page writers.

Also, it is for his well being that he not travel. Martinez was apparently unaware that poor editorial writing can lead to a five year prison term in China, and the Chinese are not loathe to enforce their laws.

I was not aware until recently that Martinez was taking a much longer trip than Sacramento, where he journeyed to fire one of his Pulitzer Prize winners, Bill Stall.
He has the good grace to allow Stall to write Op Ed pieces, 15 a year, but he should not have fired him in the first place.

The way it is right now, it would not surprise me if Martinez, and his mentor, Times publisher Jeff Johnson, moved full time to Chicago, where they could be even more under the thumb of the Tribune Co. executives.

Martinez's travels might be a fit subject for a Steve Lopez column. Lopez wrote an excellent and funny column last year when Cardinal Mahony flew first class to the Pope's funeral, raising the question whether Jesus would have gone coach. Now, he ought to ask just what class Martinez is traveling in.

I would presume it's coach, but from Martinez's work that might not be a safe presumption.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Government Disaster Systems Allowed To Deteriorate

There are two articles this morning that show that our protection against disasters continues to deteriorate, months after Hurricane Katrina proved it is not adequate.

The New York Times has a piece ( that describes how the government's flood insurance system is in a state of collapse, and the L.A. Times ( one that nails Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to the wall for failing to finance the State Seismic Safety Commission or to enforce state statutes requiring earthquake safely.

Both derelictions are due, in part, to the evil insurance lobby, which consistently opposes constructive action in these areas. When, as is the case with the Schwarzenegger Administration, the insurers have their man right in the governor's office, raising money for the governor's reelection, there is seemingly nothing that can be done to make him an honest man.

The selfish, short sighted real estate and insurance professions, always ready to sacrifice safeguards that save lives to their desires for cheap property and construction, are the bane of us all.

They, plus neglect by crooked politicians in Congress and the executive branches, so dependent on their campaign contributions, have allowed the systems that give us the wherewithal to deal with disasters to almost vanish. An exception, however, is State Sen. Elaine Alquist's bill to enforce seismic safety standards. Like her late husband, Sen. Alfred Alquist, who died recently, Alquist persists in upholding the public interest.

The flood insurance system virtually collapsed with Katrina, not enough to deal with the destruction in New Orleans. As the new hurricane season is about to begin, the levees have not been reconstructed and thousands of ruined homes still await the least government action. Now, the New York Times tells us, Congress is failing to act to put flood insurance on a sound footing. It would require more people to pay higher premiums, but this is one of the costs of home ownership that should not be neglected.

Meanwhile, the insincere Schwarzenegger, with his unsavory executive secretary, Susan Kennedy, gives speeches about seismic safety while refusing to implement its requirements. The governor recently took steps to exempt the community colleges from seismic safety measures. If an earthquake should strike during the school day, hundreds or even thousands could die in the ensuing collapses. The governor would be directly responsible for the loss of life.

If government were coming to the aid of disaster victims after the fact, that would at least be some solace. But in Katrina we see that disaster aid has been inadequate, despite the promises of the Bush Administration. Night after night on TV we see the pictures of a city that has been allowed to rot in the post-disaster period.

We just don't care for the future as much anymore as we should. Our children and grandchildren will ultimately pay the price.

And meanwhile we should elect public officials who will do their duty.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Keep Pro Football Out of L.A.

The New York Times reports this morning on the likelihood of pro football returning to Los Angeles, putting the ultimate price tag for a new owner, if it's an expansion team, as high as $1.5 billion and quoting the L.A. Times to the effect that signing rights for a scaled down Coliseum could be $50 million. Meetings are to be held shortly.

The question is do we want the Coliseum to be renamed the Milk of Magnesia Bowl, or some such other elegant title.

If the San Diego Charges moved to L.A., after failing to get San Diego to put up enough money for a new stadium there, the price might come down to $800 millon.

Still, that's a lot of money. Despite all the assurances from local officials that public money won't be involved, I fear that somehow it will be involved, if only through a diversion of tax revenues. Many of the details of the proposed deal are not being divulged.

Even the bland NYT article this morning does give more than a nod to various people who say that a pro team in L.A. has not been really missed. It is almost a more pleasant prospect for the National Football League, which has seen a diminished TV market here without a team than it would presumably get with one.

It seems, meanwhile, that not a day goes by without a big time athlete being murdered or involved in scandal. Whoever said that sports are great? Even football champion USC can't seem to keep its players in the proper bedrooms.

All this needs more consideration, maybe 15 years more, and by that time the NFL, with any good fortune, will have collapsed.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

LAT Report On Polygamy Shows Price Of Religious Fanaticism

When Utah was made a state, I believe in 1893, it was on condition that the Mormon Church abandon its doctrine endorsing polygamy. This was entirely proper, since it was recognized that polygamy was not compatible with general American values.

For many years, the federal judge appointed in Salt Lake, usually a non-Mormon, enforced its termination and polygamists were prosecuted. But that hardline policy has lapsed in recent years.

The result was on display in two L.A. Times front page articles Friday and Saturday, and it is shocking indeed.

"I have a corner of my state that is worse than (under) the Taliban," the attorney general of the state of Utah told Times writers David Kelly and Gary Cohn, and that is the bitter truth of the situation.

The articles document beyond any reasonable doubt that older men are allowed to prey on young girls, that hundreds of boys are expelled at young ages to prevent competition with the dirty old men, and that a veritable tyranny has been established in Colorado City, Ariz., just across the line from Utah. Dissidents are prosecuted by this version of Iranian mullahs, and the regular state justice systems have failed to protect basic human rights in a whole community.

There is another unfortunate parallel to the terrible conditions existing among Muslims. Just as millions of Muslims may not approve of the brutal actions taken by the fundamentalists, but, like the proverbial three monkeys have seen no evil, heard no evil or speak no evil, so many conventional Mormons have not taken any steps to reign in or oppose their fundamentalists either. The consequences have been abuses of the worst sort. It also reminds one how few Germans stood up against Hitler.

Any country has a right, within broad parameters, to crack down on such conduct. When, as in Iran, the central government itself is guilty of the depredations, then there should be an uprising or outside intervention. Religious freedom cannot and should not be used as an excuse for inaction, or the whole world may be ultimately taken over by the fanatics. Then we would go back to Calvinism, when people were executed for not going along with crazy religious beliefs.

One thing that is apparently common to many fundamentalist religious groups is mistreatment of women and children by men. We see this in Iran and the Arab countries. Now, it turns out, it also exists on our own soil.

Also, a main line of the Times report is the complicity of elected officials, who have failed in their responsibilities to crack down on these excesses. It is all reminiscent of the situation at Jonestown, where the head of the community, Jim Jones, orchestrated a mass suicide of fearsome proportions after outsiders began to interfere. Jones had built relationships with many California politicians who were not smart enough or courageous enough to take him and his goofy religion on earlier.

There is a lesson here. The whole world is under siege by these nuts, and we cannot stand aside safely.

Lest you fear otherwise, I should emphasize I have nothing against the regular Mormon Church. Indeed I have a high regard for its building of Utah, and, it happens, one of my father's roommates at the Naval Academy was a Mormon. But the Mormon Church as a whole has an obligation to fight against extremist offshoots.

This was a distinguished week for L.A. Times investigative reporting. Today, also, we learn in a headline article that Kaiser Permanente will abandon its inept and even deadly kidney transplant program in Northern California, and transfer patients to University of California hospitals, thanks to the articles by Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber. It's another demonstration of the value of newspapers.

But it's too late for Kaiser. It will not be able to avoid many costly lawsuits.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Thomas Friedman's Take On A.M. Rosenthal's Bad Temper

There's an excellent column by New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning foreign columnist Thomas L. Friedman today on the career of A.M. Rosenthal, former Pulitzer Prize winner and executive editor of the NYT, who died this past week at 84. Friedman is apparently one of the few to see print this week who is not appalled at Rosenthal's autocratic management style and occasional bouts of bad temper.

To be frank, as someone who displayed more than flashes of bad temper myself, I, like Friedman, empathize with Rosenthal. I'm a great believer in what Henry Adams once said in a different context: "You can't use tact with a congressman. You have to take a stick and hit him in the snout." This is another way of saying, you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs.

So I particularly am pleased by these passages in Friedman's eulogy to Rosenthal.

"Yes, the man liked to break china -- sometimes over the head of an editor or a reporter -- but his journalistic daring and the passion he wore on his sleeve are still so compelling to me, especially today, when newsrooms resemble sterile insurance companies. As my friend Howell Raines used to say, when Abe was around, you knew journalism was going to happen. Some plates, even a few bones, might get broken -- but also a lot of news."

Amen! The press has not improved in this country as newsrooms have grown more bland. It is certainly preferable that Rosenthal said what he thought, even if he was often politically incorrect. His overall influence was positive, even inspirational.

Rosenthal, who I did not know personally, was not always fair. He hounded an excellent reporter, Ben A. Franklin, until he quit. And as a columnist after he retired as executive editor, he was more than infrequently very right wing. He had the temerity to support Israel against its enemies.

But under Rosenthal, the New York Times was an exciting newspaper, afraid of no one. Its decision to print the Pentagon Papers shows that.

Ir is no favor to either a newspaper's staff or readers for the editor to always be polite. A.M. Rosenthal wasn't, and thank goodness for that. As Friedman said today, he will be missed. Like Peter Ueberroth at the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing commitee, he was a hard taskmaster, but a good one.

Rosenthal is also remembered for his tremendous reporting from India and Poland. He found out so much about Poland, the then-Russian lining government threw him out.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

David Cay Johnston Runs Loops Around Everyone In Tax Coverage

One of the silliest things Noel Greenwood ever did at the L.A. Times was to denigrate the talents of David Cay Johnston. He was at least partially responsible for Johnston's leaving the newspaper.

The consequence was that Johnston had to reach the New York Times before winning a Pulitzer and becoming the nation's greatest journalistic authority on tax legislation. His talents are fully in view this morning in the NYT with his trenchant analysis on the tax law changes now making their way through Congress.

In today's article, Johnston reports an estimate by the Tax Policy Center, a subsidiary of the Brookings Institution, that the legislation now nearing final passage, would pass 80% of its tax savings to the top 10% of taxpayers and that 20% of all the savings would go to the top 1%.

The savings in the topmost bracket, those taxpayers who make more than $1 million a year, amount to of $42,766. Those compare to savings of $5,656 to those making between $500,000 and $1 million and just $17 to those making between $30,000 and $40,000. What a shocking set of statistics!

Not only in his NYT articles but in a book, Johnston has outlined the wild disparities in the effect of tax legislation in the Bush Administration, and it is clear that whoever is responsible for this travesty has only the wealthy taxpayer in mind.

And the effects are likely to be long lasting, particularly if tax cuts now being voted are projected to last several years. The estimate for the cut is $69 billion in if the legislation lasts for a year or two, but is 15 times greater if the cuts are extended, which is frequently the case, for a decade.

We know President Bush is leaving office in two and a half years, but whoever is his successor may be hard pressed to undo some of the destructive work he has done, backing tax cuts which are not in the long range public interest, and, particularly, catering to his wealthiest campaign contributors.

While alterations of the alternative minimum tax would cost $31 billion this year, if the "patch" were to continue for 10 years, the loss in revenue would be more than $1 trillion, Johnston reports.

Altogether, the Johnston article gives us exponentially greater information than an article this morning on the tax cuts in the L.A. Times.

Johnston also points out that a provision in the new law would allow Roth IRAs to be tax free, and anyone would be able to convert his present IRA into a Roth IRA, thus assuring no more taxes in perpetuity. And unlike traditional IRAs, there is no mandatory withdrawal of money after age 70 and a half.

When one considers the lasting harm done to future generations by this package, it makes Randy Cunningham's corrupt dealings on military contracts look picayune. Especially the Republican majority in Congress, which may not last beyond the November elections, has failed to work in the public interest.

Meanwhile, the NYT is lucky to have Johnston, and the L.A. Times, thanks at least in part to Greenwood, is unlucky not to have him.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

State (Finally) Moves In On Kaiser's Kidney Transplants

Maybe it's that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to be reelected. And maybe, it's just because state government takes its time catching up to the newspapers. But the state has moved in on Kaiser Permanente, directing the big medical plan to pay for its patients getting kidney transplants at outside hospitals.

After the failure of Kaiser's new Northern California transplant center to protect the very lives of patients, lending itself to long delays in securing transplants, and generally leading transplant hopefuls astray, the director of the California Department of Managed Care, said specifically that the patients could now return to the hospitals at UC Davis and UC San Francisco for their transplants.

Cindy Ehnes said in a L.A. Times interview, "Let me put it this way, they (Kaiser) will do want the patients want them to do." It will be Kaiser, she said, which "will be ending up financially responsible for transplants that are received in other institutions."

The arrangement was to be formally announced today at a news conference.

Kaiser's disgraceful neglect of its own members is more serious than Chicago Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimon's neglect of the Los Angeles Times. In the Kaiser case, the very lives of its patients, not just their careers, has been at stake.

This is, of course, not the first time that the state government bureaucracy was finally induced to do the right thing by the press. California has many regulatory boards that are understaffed, scarcely fulfilling their responsibilities to the public. Nowhere is this clearer than in health care regulation, including both doctors and drugs.

Now, with $5 billion in previously unexpected tax revenues, the state definitely has the wherewithal to beef up the regulatory agencies, and, I once calculated, as little as $150 million more directed annually to these entities would lead to a substantial improvement in performance of their functions.

With the Times reporting also this morning on one of the leading Democratic challengers for governor, State Controller Steve Westly, helping his campaign contributors to obtain multimillion-dollar investments from the state's huge pension fund, it would seem, meanwhile, that Schwarzenegger's prospects of reelection are enhanced.

All the governor has to do now is start serving the public rather than the business interests from which he has received so much support, after proclaiming in the Recall campaign that he would not serve special interests.

The Kaiser scandal, so comprehensively reported by Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber of the Times, opens an opportunity for the Administration to do just that, plus an opportunity for Kaiser to restore its good reputation by abandoning unsavory policies.

That these things might happen may be more likely than FitzSimons changing his stripes.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Most Newspapers, Cable TV Networks, Show Decline

The figures aren't as bad as speculation that L.A. Times circulation could dip to 750,000, but they still aren't good. Officially, Times circulation dropped 5.4% in the last six months to 851,832 daily. This compares to an overall 2.5% slide for the nation's 20 largest papers.

The New York Times gained circulation slightly, up 0.5% to 1,142,464, but San Francisco Chronicle circulation was down 15.6% to 398,246. Overall West Coast papers slid more than East Coast ones.

Meanwhile, new figures show that on an April to April basis, the big cable TV networks lost viewers. Fox, the leading network, was down 17% and woebegone CNN down a remarkable 35%.

Why is this? Is it that the news hasn't been as scintillating as last year, or is th e Internet gaining what the newspapers and cables are losing?

Interestingly, the Chicago Tribune, hometown of the nest of vipers now running the L.A. Times, was up 0.9% to 579,979 in circulation. It just may be that Dennis FitzSimons, the Tribune CEO, is spending more money soliciting subscriptions in Chicago than he is in Los Angeles.

Of the 20 largest papers, five gained circulation. Besides the New York Times and Chicago Tribune, those gaining were USA Today, Newark Star-Ledger and Detroit News.

The New York Times continues to gain largely because of its national distribution. The L.A. Timrs, by contrast, has dropped its national edition.

Monday, May 08, 2006

L.A. Times Executives Examine The Paper's Circulation Losses

It's my understanding that at a weekend retreat in Palm Springs of L.A. Times masthead editors, Leo Wolinsky, one of the paper's two managing editors, gave a presentation on the whys and wherefores of the depressing Times losses of circulation since the Tribune Co. bought the paper in 2000.

Wolinsky prepared graphs showing circulation from the time Otis Chandler became publisher in 1961, an event which ushered in a period of steadily improving circulation, to the squalid record of the last six years, which circulation has dropped roughly a quarter from the level of close to 1.1 million at the time of the sale, and ouster of Times-Mirror CEO Mark Willes.

Willes had foolishly set a goal of doubling Times circulation to two million. However, within months of taking over as CEO, he admitted that just keeping circulation about where it was, a little over a million, was a struggle. The paper, he said, suffered from a churning of circulation resulting from readers who cancelled their subscriptions when they went on vacation and then did not renew them. Nevertheless, Willes never abandoned his efforts to increase circulation.

Now, however, some Times executives express fear that when the next report comes out in September, Times daily circulation could drop to the 750,000 level.

Some of the reasons for this are clear. Aside from declining circulation at most of America's big newspapers, demographic trends in Los Angeles, where the Anglo population is an ever-decreasing percentage of the whole, have worked against the newspaper. Willes' efforts to build circulation in Hispanic neighborhoods by entering into a deal with the Spanish language paper, La Opinion, were scuttled by the Tribune. which terminated the deal. Also, it reacted against reports that Willes had bloated circulation by counting some distribution that was not paid for.

But it was reportedly also made clear in Wolinsky's report that the Tribune management itself was willing to abandon considerable circulation by constricting the areas in which the Times is delivered. This was done to keep newspaper production costs down, but it has led to what sometimes seems to be an irreversible downward spiral.

Also, the paper's promotional budget, as set by Chicago, has been woeful. There was no promotion budget at all for three years, and, even now, when there is a small one, it is devoted mainly to trying to keep advertising despite the circulation losses.

The Times is being treated as a poor stepchild by the Tribune executives, who, for instance, don't even have a fully present general manager for the paper. He comes to L.A. three days a week, but he lives in Chicago.

These facts are a recipe for disaster. Circulation is a struggle, anyway, in the days of the Internet, but when efforts to keep it up are lagging, as they have under Tribune control, it becomes a catastrophe.

It does not help either that, while there are efforts being made to buy the paper from the Tribune, and restore it to local control under owners willing to accept a smaller profit margin and spend more on the paper's quality, the Tribune CEO, Dennis FitzSimons is resisting such a sale.

Since FitzSimons, through his leadership of the Tribune Foundation, controls 14% of the company's stock, he is in a strong position to resist a sale or a hostile takeover, despite the fact that Tribune's stock price has fallen dramatically.

In short, in the Wolinsky report to executives over the weekend, there seemed to be few rays of hope. The Times is languishing like Cinderella did before the arrival of the prince.

I have a friend who believes a newspaper like the Times may be doomed to become much smaller because the newspaper industry has not embraced technological change. While she may have a point, the fact is that without diligent and well-financed efforts to maintain circulation, through advertising and by increasing the delivery areas, it will sink ever further.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Iraqi Targeted Killings Now Kill 9 Times More Than Suicide Bombs

In a depressing report in the L.A. Times today, correspondent Louise Roug says there are now nine times more people dying in Iraq from targeted killings than in suicide bombings. Most of the murders are sectarian in nature, with Sunnis killing Shiites and the Shiites taking revenge. She reports 3,472 violent deaths in Baghdad alone from January through March.

Many of the victims, Roug says, are "found hog-tied and shot execution style. Others were strangled, electrocuted, stabbed, garroted or hanged...Many bore signs of torture such as bruises, drill holes, burn marks, gouged eyes or severed limbs."

It seems clear that the goal of the vile Sunni terrorist leader, the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, of a sectarian war that could spread beyond Iraq to many other countries in the Middle East is close to being realized. Roug lists a tremendous surge of murders since the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra on Feb. 22.

Such a conflict could ultimately change the borders of the region, with Iraq being dismembered for starters, and Anglo-American forces being placed in even greater jeopardy.

Just yesterday, up to five British soldiers were killed when a helicopter was shot down over Basra. Four members of an Iraqi mob died, shot by British rescue units, when hundreds of local citizens gathered to celebrate the helicopter downing.

What can be done to stop or at least curtail the killings?

The Israeli experience may be instructive in this. Suicide bombings in Israel increased in 2002, but they have fallen off since, due to an Israeli policy of going after, not only the bombers themselves, but their leaders, the ones ultimately responsible for the attacks. The Israelis targeted the Hamas and Islamic Jihad seniors, and after many had been killed, the bombings dropped. Fortunately, the Holy Land has not yet been the scene of many sectarian murders.

Meanwhile, it seems clear in Iraq that killing al-Zarqawi has to be a first step in the effort to alter the downward spiral of events.

Killing him must be our priority, as is the killing of the al-Qaeda leadership now believed hiding in the mountains of Pakistan. No effort should be spared, no national boundaries honored, in doing this. Not until the organizers of the present orgy of killings are dead will any real progress be made.

Yes, there have been signs of discord in the ranks of the enemy, with al-Zarqawi emerging as a rival of Osama bin Laden. But that is not to say that both do not remain dangerous. Both must be removed.

With another CIA director, Porter Goss, biting the dust this past week, and reports of continued low morale and disorganization in the CIA, it is probably up to others, such as military intelligence, to find these sons of bitches, and exterminate them at any cost.

Our forces have sometimes been close to al-Zarqawi. Just last week, they seized outtakes of a video he made. That gives some hope we may be approaching the happy day when we find him and get rid of him.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Misleading Advertising In The Race For Governor

Back in 1974, when I was an L.A. Times political writer, I was driving to Sun City one day when I suddenly heard a new advertisement on the radio. It said that Ken Cory, an Orange County assemblyman then running for state controller, was
"the man the oil companies fear the most."

This cannot be, I thought to myself. It cannot possibly be that a lowly assemblyman is the man in all of California the oil companies fear the most.

Yet Cory was able to use that slogan to be elected State Controller, where he played around, fencing with the oil industry, for years, without achieving anything substantial.

I was reminded of that 30-year-old ad last night while watching television and seeing an ad touting State Treasurer Phil Angelides as supported by the police unions. "One hundred thousand" police in California support Angelides for governor, the ad said.

Angelides, a Democrat along with State Controller Steve Westly, is one of two major challengers to Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's bid for reelection.

But I have the same reaction to Angelides' police ad as I had to the Cory ad about the oil companies. It is simply not to be believed.

It is not to be believed that the average rank and file policeman or woman, as distinct from their police union endorsing in hopes of special treatment, would support the most liberal of the three candidates for governor, as Angelides appears to be.

It is well known that the police unions habitually support the highest bidder, the official who promises to be most subservient to their desires. This is bad politics for the people of California.

The prison guards union has also endorsed various candidates, and some of them, such as former Gov. Gray Davis, have been real turkeys. The prison guards have gained special salary increases and thwarted efforts to investigate official misconduct by guards in the prisons, including some brutal murders. Now, with the prisons in a mess, the guards union and compliant governors bear much of the responsibility. Schwazenegger, who also has had the guards support, has been one of the most compliant.

Angelides has less money to advertise than Westly and in recent polls Westly has led him in the Democratic primary race. My reaction to the police ad for Angelides is that it raises the question of what Angelides has promised the police union.

Almost whatever it is, it is bound not to be in accord with sound fiscal policy for California. Exorbitant police pensions contribute to budget shortfalls, and decisions are always being taken that fly in the face of sound discipline of police officers who commit transgressions. Just a few months ago, the Los Angeles Police Commission was paying off political debts when it decided not to identify the officers involved in suspicious shooting cases, reversing a 25-year policy.

The only answer to ads like the police union ad for Angelides is to vote for other candidates, in order to protect ourselves.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Charles Ornstein, Tracy Weber And Their Kaiser Stories

The L.A. Times provides a great public service through the articles on hospitals and their shortcomings by Charles Ornstein and Tracy Weber.

The two paired up to do a series of articles on the woeful Martin Luther King Hospital in South Los Angeles, they have dealt with derelictions in other hospitals, and this week they have extended their coverage to the Kaiser Permanente health care system.

The news that people have died because Kaiser grossly mishandled kidney transplants should shock everyone in California, especially the many thousands who rely on Kaiser for their health care. The news that people in desperate need of new kidneys wait for long periods, or never get them at all, due to the bureaucratic processes at Kaiser is shocking. This is a system which clearly is not doing its duty to its clients.

And it is particularly damning that we read at the end of today's piece by Ornstein and Weber, "Kaiser doctors and administrators have provided misleading or inaccurate information to The Times several times in the last week."

One of the strongest arguments for development of a single-payer health care system in the U.S. is that private enterprise handling of these vital services is a mess.
It is by no means confined to hospitals. We also read that Blue Cross of California uses only 80% of each dollar received in premiums to pay for providing health care. This is down a percentage point from last year. So while Blue Cross pays its executives exorbitant salaries, it is shortchanging its customers. How much better it would be such insurance systems were in public hands.

I saw Ornstein and Weber yesterday as part of a visit to the Times, and was again impressed by their demeanor. They do not at all fit the stereotypes of journalists so often peddled by the far right. They are neither wild-haired nor tempermental. They are simply doing their jobs. But they are doing them with great diligence and determination to serve the public.

Newspapers come in for much criticism, but, for all their faults, newspapers frequently perform valuable public service. Certainly, we have a lot to thank Ornstein and Weber for. They, in the words of Admiral The Lord Nelson in another context, are doing their duty.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Harry Bernstein, One of LAT's Most Prominent Reporters, Is Dead

Harry Bernstein, the man who introduced coverage of organized labor to the Los Angeles Times, and an unabashed exponent of the American labor movement, died Tuesday at 83.

I had several kinds of relationships with Harry. We agreed certainly on labor issues at the Times itself and often joined together in attempting to advance reporters rights. Harry was always encouraging to me in my talks with management, and he pursued his own vigorously.

But there were also strains in our relationship. Harry was liberal and I was either conservative on some matters or at least independent. Harry, for many years, was a strong Democrat while I was a moderate Republican. We socialized together, me often going to wonderful parties given by him and his wife, Joanne, and the two of them coming to my house. But we also often expressed our conflicting political views to each other behind the scenes.

In 1971, when Harry was in his heyday as a reporter and I was Southern correspondent for the paper, Ed Guthman, then national editor, sent me to Miami to assist Harry in covering an AFL-CIO convention.

I went up with Harry to the suite of the head of the Sailor's union, and while I can't remember the man's name for sure (I think it may have been Paul Hall), I do remember his telling an aide in a loud voice, "Get me ten pounds of filet Mignon." This to me symbolized the high living style of many labor leaders. Harry was more sympathetic.

Also, at the same meeting, I overheard AFL-CIO head George Meany, telling someone in the hotel lobby that then-President Richard Nixon was "a weak man and weak men are dangerous." I wrote a story about the telling remark. Harry was uncomfortable that I had quoted Meany. He was probably right when he said the labor leader would not have made the remark had he known a reporter was listening.

By the time, Harry began writing a labor column, for the paper it was highly predictable.

Yet I always admired Harry for his diligence. He was a hard worker and knew everyone who was anyone in the labor movement. A great newspaper like the Times thrives on having reporters who are well plugged in in a whole host of areas, and Harry represented the paper well in the areas of his expertise.

Bill Thomas, the editor during much of the time Harry was labor reporter, sometimes was privately a little impatient with him. But Thomas and Otis Chandler often listened to Harry on matters of employee relations, and the Times was a happier family because of his presence. What a difference between then and these days of Tribune control, in which the staff is treated with less understanding.

It is with sad emotions that I read of his death this morning. Harry had been in declining health for a long time, and at recent meetings of the Old Farts, the Times retired employees association, he was present but really unable to speak.

What he represented at the Times was important. It was important that the Times proved its fairness to a segment of society, organized labor, which it had for so long been unfriendly to, and Harry stood for the desire, on the part of Chandler and Thomas, to be fair across the political spectrum. These days, the Times has dropped its fulltime labor coverage and that is too bad.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Conflicting Reports In The War On Terror

Carlotta Gall, the New York Times' excellent correspondent in Afghanistan, has a headline report this morning that the Taliban threat is growing in Afghanistan, as NATO forces that may not be as willing to fight as the Americans take over in the southern part of the country, next to Pakistan, which the Taliban use as a privileged sanctuary.

But the New York Times has also in recent days reported on possible strains among the terrorist leaders, with the Iraqi-based Al-Zarqawi emerging as a kind of rival to Osama bin Laden.

Also, it is reported that some Iraq1 insurgent groups are getting tired of the foreign Arab fighters in Iraq and there has been pressure on Zarqawi from that direction.

The hope, obviously, is that the terrorist front may be weakened and while an end to the insurgency is not in sight, we might be able to say, as Churchill once did when the Allies landed in North Africa in World War II. that "we have seen the end of the beginning" in the fight against our enemies.

It may be too early to be hopeful, but certainly there has been growing controversy in the Arab world over some of the policies of Zarqawi in Iraq, particularly the beheadings of hostages and the sectarian attacks against Shiites. These barbaric tactics are beginning to turn people off. And there are signs of a general reaction that is less extreme. Just this week, for instance, the Hamas government in the Palestinian territories took official exception to a fatwa issued by a cleric calling for YMCAs to be shut down, and last week the Hamas government criticized the latest bombing in Egypt. This is a welcome divergence from Hamas' recent support of the recent suicide bombing in Israel.

The naming of a new prime minister in Iraq has also inspired some hopes of progress in that country, although no one would say the problems there are close to being resolved.

At the same time, the Libyan leader, Al-Qaddafi, has gone off the deep end again after a period of relative moderation, saying in an interview in recent days that everything will be resolved when Europe and the U.S. adopt Islam as their religions.

When elephants fly, would be a sound response to such a ridiculous suggestion.

Nevertheless, we are perhaps in a more fluid period than in the past. The West has some opportunities if al-Zarqawi has indeed gone too far for the mass Arab population, and is coming under pressure even from the murderous Osama to moderate some of his practices.

It is still, needless to say, extremely important to kill or imprison the terrorist leaders, and more terror attacks will certainly occur. But such attacks as the one last fall on the wedding party in Amman, Jordan, seem in retrospect to have been an error by the terrorists.

Perhaps, if we hang in there, there may be a little light at the end of the tunnel.
But, of course, we have to be continually vigilant against any possibility that someone might try to use an atomic weapon or launch a chemical or biological attack against the U.S.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Keeping Kids In School When History Is Made Is Not Important

I'm glad Bob Sipchen of the L.A. Times, who has more professional lives than a cat has lives, period, has a new column, on educating our children, but I disagreed with a point he made in the very first -- urging students to stay in school and not participate in the immigration marches.

I followed a different tactic in raising my own children. When history was being made, I wanted them to participate in it. I felt they would learn far more on such a day than they could possibly learn in school.

So, when I had the Olympic assignment for the Times, I used to regularly take the children out of school to accompany me on Olympic reporting trips. The understanding I had with the L.A. schools was that they would do all their homework on such trips, but they would go with me. By the time of the Olympics, my daughter Kathy, then 12, had accompanied me on trips to 20 countries, and David, who was 9, had gone to 12. Kathy became so conversant on Olympic matters and the press that she was able to write an article for the London Times when she was 8 at the Lake Placid Winter Games and for the L.A. Times on the opening day of the 1984 Olympics. David accompanied me to the 1980 meeting of the U.S. Olympic Committee that decided to go along with President Jimmy Carter's boycott of the Moscow Games, and a photograph of him listening to the debate ran in a Colorado Springs newspaper.

All this could not have done the kids any educational harm. Kathy ended up going to Yale where she became editor of the leading student magazine, and David to Berkeley. Both kids have professional jobs today that require substantial travel.

The fact is that experiencing life and major events directly is often more important than simply reading about them, and creates indelible impressions of great value.

The only countervailing argument that I know of of any weight is that the schools lose some daily reimbursement by the state if their attendance is down during these periods.

There can be little question, when one thinks about it, that yesterday's immigration marches in Los Angeles and other cities were important events affecting particularly the lives of the children of immigrants.

It is my feeling they should see those events for themselves, and statistics issued by the L.A. Unified School District indicate that many did. The schools reported a 27% absentee rate yesterday, 71,942 absences betwsen grades 6 and 12. Many of those absentees undoubtedly will remember participating in the marches and what they saw in them for the rest of their lives.

It is important also, I think, that education columns such as Sipchen's don't advocate a goody-two-shoes approach that will turn children off, rather than encourage them to learn about life, both inside and outside school. A parallel is the advice given by some ministers to youngsters to abstain from sex until after they are married. My own view is that as long as adequate precautions are taken to avoid pregnancy or AIDS, sex is too important an aspect of life to be left to the married.

I notice that the Times editorial on the marches this morning also contains the statement, "We don't believe students should skip school (to participate in the marches)." But that really doesn't bother me as much as Sipchen's column, because the Times editorial page is always saying things that only encourage many people to do the exact opposite of what it recommends. Columns in the Times, particularly those on regular news pages, are better read in any event than editorials.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Andres Martinez's Article On Cuba In LAT Is Commendable

The article in the L.A. Times' Current section Sunday recounting a visit to Cuba by Times editorial page editor Andres Martinez was well worth reading and marks the steady improvement of Current under the deputy editorial page editor, Michael Newman.

Martinez, whose bland editorials continue for the most part, had an incisive report on Cuba in a state of waiting, waiting for Fidel Castro to die and wondering what will happen to the Communist system when he does go. Castro will soon be 80 and has been in power 47 years.

Martinez traveled widely on the island and was able to talk frankly with many Cuban sources.

The only strange thing about this article was that it didn't carry a Havana dateline, when its content clearly was gathered there and elsewhere on the island. This article again confirms my impression that Martinez writes better articles and columns than he does editorials.

The maps that are sometimes done of the news value of various parts of the world, according to the American press, frequently show Israel, Iraq and Afghanistan as occupying a huge proportion of news coverage and many other countries as scarcely mentioned at all. So it is commendable that Martinez went to Cuba and was able to provide such a comprehensive report.

This again shows that the L.A. Times remains a great newspaper for foreign news. When Castro does disappear, Cuba will be back in the regular headlines, and it is still very important to the United States.

One encouraging aspect of the situation is that no one has suggested Cuba is part of any worldwide terrorist network under its present regime. Castro is oppressive but not particularly dangerous these days.

A stronger editorial page is important for the L.A. Times, and it would be better if it were directly in the control of senior editors, rather than the Tribune-appointed publisher, Jeff Johnson. But Newman, who just went on the Times masthead, has in recent weeks edited a stronger Current section. He is still using the frivolous Joel Stein, but he has other resources and is using them. Current is not yet the New York Times' Week In Review, but it is becoming more competitive.

All in all, however, the editorial page and the columns remain points of weakness.
The Op-Ed page editor, Nick Goldberg, has written a few articles on the Israeli-Arab struggle, but Goldberg's studied stance of being neutral between the Israelis and Palestinians weakens the credibility of his commentary.

Under Mark Willes, the Times did endorse Gray Davis for governor, the first time it had ever backed a Democrat for the state's highest office. We'll see this year whether the policy of endorsing for higher offices continues. It definitely should, in my view, since Times readers deserve to know where the paper stands on election choices.