Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Circulation At L.A. Times Has Now Fallen 325,000 Since Tribune Bought The Paper

The news is terrible. As circulation figures fall fairly generally for newspapers across the country, the L.A. Times once again has experienced one of the worst drops -- 8% daily and 6% Sunday in just the past six months, to 775,766.

Calling the declines "one of (the industry's) sharpest declines in recent history," New York Times writer Katherine D. Seelye this morning, writes, "The figures appear to be the steepest in any comparable six-month period in at least 15 years. They come after the sale of the Knight Ridder newspapers this year and in the midst of a possible sale of the Tribune Company, whose assets include 11 newspapers. The circulation losses also follow recent sour earnings reports, raising questions about why anyone would want to buy a newspaper now."

Jim Rainey is not as frank in the L.A. Times story. He must be on a very tight leash, because the new publisher sent by Chicago to the L.A. Times, David Hiller, issued yesterday one of the most clueless statements ever about the declines.

Hiller, whose apparent chief exploit in life was to become a friend and colleague of Bill Clinton persecutor Ken Starr, went all the way back to the first years of Tribune ownership, when Times circulation first dipped below a million daily, to come up with a lame excuse for what is happening. It was the same excuse Tribune used when the decline began.

Hiller said, "Our total paid numbers, which showed declines of 8% daily and 6% on Sunday, reflect our strategy for improving the quality of our circulation by reducing other paid circulation."

Ho Ho! If Hiller had been in charge of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, he would have characterized Stalingrad as a German victory.

But his characterization of what he laughably called "solid and encouraging results," went on to cite the recent redesign of Section A of the Times as an example of the progress.

The redesign is quite simply a disaster, and if Hiller thinks otherwise, he should be examined for possible dementia.

Finally, he concludes in his message to the staff, "Thanks for all of your efforts on these fronts. They really show."

Those last three words would have been more accurate had they read, "Declines really stink."

Other newspapers, of course, also lost circulation. The New York Times was down 3.5% after softening the news offerings of the paper. The New York Times-owned Boston Globe was down 6.7%, the Sacramento Bee 5.5%, the San Diego Union-Tribune 3.2%, the Orange County Register 3.8% and so forth. Only The New York Post, New York Daily News and St. Louis Post Dispatch showed circulation gains of the 23 large newspapers listed today in the New York Times.

The average circulation decline in all the nation's papers was 2.8%. But the former Times-Mirror papers so woefully neglected by the Tribune co. had a record worse than average. In addition to the L.A. Times' 8% decline, Newsday was down 5%, and I've read elsewhere the Baltimore Sun is down about 4.4%.

Today's articles report that reading of papers online is showing increases, but so far there isn't much money in that. There may be in the future, however. But Tribune Co. has prevented the L.A. Times web site from spending money on improvements.

Altogether, the latest news is alarming. When one of the LAT managing editors, Leo Wolinsky, said last spring that Times circulation might decline below 800,000 I hoped he would be wrong. But it turns out he wasn't.

And with Hiller in charge of the Times, circulation is bound to go even lower.


Monday, October 30, 2006

L.A. Times Editorial Fails To See Clear Racism

It isn't that the L.A. Times editorial pages haven't glimmerings of good ideas. It's just that the Times stops short of fully implementing them. The thing editorial page editor Andres Martinez has seemed to feel strongest about actually accomplishing was when he dismissed all his Pulitzer Prize winners. He couldn't stand having able writers of conviction on his staff.

Last week, after the Times introduced a squalid new design, and people all over Southern California were ridiculing it, the Times letters column did run several letters denigrating the change. But after that, silence. No more such letters. Martinez had exhausted his courage in one day only.

Now, we come toward the end of the Mid Term election campaign, and the desperate Republicans become more ugly by the day. One of the worst ads has been running in the Tennessee U.S. Senate race, where the Democratic candidate, Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. is bidding to become the first black senator from the old Confederacy since Reconstruction.

The Times Sunday, in its still mainly unsatisfactory Current section, has the right idea when it offers an editorial headlined, "Racism enters the races."

But it can't quite bring itself to close the point.

When it comes to Tennessee, the editorial declares:

"The most masterful (racially-tinged ad) of the genre is the television spot in Tennessee targeting Harold Ford, Jr. Ford is a black Democrat running for the Senate against Republican Bob Corker, and the commercial ends with a bare-shouldered blond urging Ford, a bachelor, to call her.

"Ford admitted that he attended a Super Bowl party sponsored by Playboy, and social conservatives in Tennessee might be offended by this regardless of any one's race. So isn't the issue fair game? Probably. And would it be better or worse for the ad's sponsors to insinuate that Ford's flirting must bet with a black Playboy hostess instead?

"Context provides the moral thicket. Consider that when South Carolina finally repealed its Constitution's ban on interracial marriage in 1998 -- 31 years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down such laws -- almost half of white voters voted to keep it in place. These ads and commercials may not be overtly racist, they just hope you are."

Oops. Pardon me, the Tennessee ad has been recognized "overtly racist" by anyone who knows Southern politics and is willing to be frank. The Times editorial is another example of failing to call things as they are.

When one considers that the Tennessee Senate race could decide control of the U.S. Senate, we have to expect more of the Times than this.


Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Memorable 50th High School Class Reunion. With Unexpected Success Stories

--written from Palm Springs, California

One thing that was striking at our 50th reunion of the Palm Springs High School Class of 1956, a class of 96 original members, this weekend at the Spa Hotel, was how well several of the black and Mexican-American members from the Indian reservation in Palm Springs -- known as Section 14 -- had done in life.

Palm Springs is a checkerboard, with every other square mile Indian land. There were very few Indians when I was growing up here in the 1950s, but almost all the town's black and Mexican Americans grew up in the square mile just east of the downtown area. Several writers over the years had commented how this was a terrible slum, representative of the disparities of Palm Springs life, out of which nothing good could come. As it turned out, they were wrong.

At the reunion, the main speaker was Charles Jordan, a city commissioner of Portland, Ore. When he was a basketball star at Palm Springs High in my senior year, he hardly ever spoke at all. He was a shy, lanky black youngster who got a basketball scholarship at Gonzaga University, where he got an excellent education. When he returned to Palm Springs, it was then-Mayor Frank Bogert who gave him a job as a recreation supervisor. Jordan said he had suggested to Bogert at the time, 1961, that he might not be accepted by whites in that position. Bogert had been adamant about going ahead with the job offer, and it was the beginning of a brilliant career for Jordan, first in Palm Springs, then in Riverside and Portland.

Two of the five arrangers of the reunion were Victor Reyes and Virginia Marmelejo, both of whom had been popular when we were in high school. The committee arranged for members of the class to ride on a fire truck around the field at halftime of the high school's football game on Friday night.

Reyes mentioned in his reunion talk that all five starters on the championship basketball team in our senior year. all either black or Mexican-American, lived within a mile of each other on Section 14.

When Reyes was 17, he planned to go with other kids in the neighborhood to Indio for an event, but the only one who showed up was a girl of 12 from a block away he had known all his life, Fifi. Out of the night's excursion grew a lasting relationship. Reyes, five years older, dated Fifi from the time she was 13, married her when she turned 18, and they have now been married 45 years. They have three children.

Yes, there was a committee that put together the reunion, but, we were told, the top organizer was Fifi, who is still charming and beautiful.

Mary Alice Harrison, sister of another athlete, was one of the best dressed, most classy women at the reunion. She enlivened my table with witty comments. She too had once been a shy, unobtrusive member of the class.

Three of our former teachers, all of them now in their late 80s, attended the reunion's Saturday night dinner. One of them was the coach of that championship basketball team, Ralph Watt, who had that same year, 1956. been diagnosed with a brain tumor. He had an operation. uncommon at the time, and was told by his doctors he had only a few years to live. Here he is, 50 years later, having served as a school principal and even, briefly, superintendent of schools. Another was a world history and Latin teacher, Letha Cote, the other a former band instructor, Gus Patzner. We gave all three plaques of appreciation. Watt, by the way, has a daughter, Sally, who now is one of the most popular elementary school teachers in Palm Springs.

We spoke about some of the teachers and students who no longer are alive, and each member of the class present got up and told about their lives since graduation.

This was actually our fourth reunion. Marmelejo, who had a long career as a telephone operator, said that this time she had insisted that there be a woman on the organizing committee, and she was invited to join.

Frank Brown, one of the organizers, said at the end, "This is probably the last time we will get together." No, no, said other members of the crowd of about 60. "We'll be back for our 60th."


Saturday, October 28, 2006

Once A Design Mistake Is Made At The LAT, It Seems To Stay Forever

--written from Palm Springs, California

The L.A. Times has introduced various design changes over the years, and no matter how terrible they have been, they have remained in the paper. No wonder, circulation continues to sink, and outside bidders for the Tribune Co. are hesitant to come forward.

Years ago, when Shelby Coffee was editor, the paper introduced a tabloid style Thursday Calendar. It is much harder to read than Calendar on other days, yet the Times has stuck by it.

Then, not many months ago, the Times increased the one-page summary page, few read, to two pages. This was absolutely nutty, yet the paper has kept them.

Now, in the latest mistake, the Times Sunday introduced new type faces on Page 1, similar to those that have been used in Calendar for some time.

Everywhere I've been in recent days, to Orange County, to a Beverly Hills book signing, and now to Palm Springs for a 50th high school reunion, every comment I've heard about the type face changes has been negative, most of them very negative. A couple told me last night that they plan to cancel the Times after many years and subscribe to the Orange County Register. Others have said they think the editors have gone crazy.

Maybe so, but if they are crazy, they are persistently so. If the past is any guide, they will stick with these type faces until hell freezes over, or at least until the bottom drops out of remaining circulation.

It is a true sign of the corporate mind that they stick with errors forever. They could have sent the tasteless "creative editor," Joe Hutchinson package back East years ago, but they have stuck with his every disaster.

Now, just when Tribune says it's willing to consider offers for the faltering company, it moves even further into the thick doo doo, by making the Times less appealing. What's wrong with the Tribune leaders? They are digging themselves into business oblivion.


Friday, October 27, 2006

Violence And Incitement From Muslim Extremists Cannot Be Ignored

There are all too many people who aren't able to accept the truth about Muslim extremism--that it is a clear and present danger to the world, and cannot be ignored.

We see that this morning in two developing situations, a resumption of violence in heavily Muslim suburbs of Paris, and a developing outrage in Australia, where the country's most prominent Muslim cleric has sermonized that women who go unveiled invite rape.

The L.A. Times in an article by Alissa Rubin barely mentions that Muslims are behind the trouble in France, where the anniversary of rioting last year is approaching and several violent incidents, the torching of buses, assaults against police, have already reoccurred. The Times frequently is too skittish about calling things as they are. Its reluctance to identify Muslims as the perpetrator of terrorist acts does not speak well for the newspaper's willingness to speak the truth to its readers.

The unhappy fact is that after leaving its Algerian colony, as it definitely should have, the French government allowed far too many Muslim immigrants into France and then failed to take steps to see that they assimilated. The result is now an increasingly nasty situation. The immigrants and their offspring have become a dire threat to the country, and those who cannot live there in peace should be deported.

A less critical (for the moment) problem has arisen in Britain, where, as a sign of Muslim disaffection, thousands of women have taken to wearing veils and full body covering. This is not acceptable. Muslims in Britain should adjust themselves to British life. If these people cannot live with the customs of Britain, they ought to leave the country voluntarily.

In Australia, meanwhile, Sheik Taj Aldin al-Hilali has compared unveiled women to "uncovered meat" who invite rape. It has been verified that he said, "If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside...and the cats come to eat it...whose fault is it, the cat's or the uncovered meat's. The uncovered meat is the problem. If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred."

If this wretch had his way, the Taliban, with its policy of keeping women at home, not permitting them to work or be educated, would be permitted to prevail in Australia and the rest of the world.

Hilali, an Egyptian, has now been banned from giving sermons for a time, but he continues to make provocative statements. At the time of 9-11, he said the terror attacks on New York and Washington represented God's wrath against the U.S. Now, he remarks he will only leave his post "after we clean the world of the White House first."

Simple deportation is too good for this SOB, who will be a menace even if he returns to Egypt. He ought to be charged with encouraging crime against women and terror attacks against the U.S. and imprisoned, preferably in solitary confinement so he cannot contaminate others.

The prime minister of Australia, John Howard, has warned that Australian Muslims could be perceived as supporting Hilali's remarks if he remained a religious leader. This is appropriate, because Muslims who wish to live in democratic countries must denounce the fundamentalists who are all too often besmirching the reputation of Islam with their violent preaching and overt acts.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Professional Football Passes On Los Angeles, Thank Goodness

L.A. Times editorials may be getting a little better. Take today's on the National Football League's apparent decision to pass on returning a pro team to Los Angeles.

This is a great blessing to this community, and, to its credit, the Times editorial accepts it with good grace, if it doesn't exactly applaud. The editorial points out that it would have cost someone $2 billion to bring a team here, by the time they rebuilt the Coliseum and paid franchise fees.

I applaud, because I think pro football is an abomination and that the college sport is much better. L.A. has two great college teams, in USC and UCLA, and most weeks they outdraw the pro teams across the nation. Now, the Coliseum Commission is free to make a long-lasting deal with USC, and the grand old stadium can keep its more than 90,000 seats and won't have to be downsized to NFL television needs.

The Times editorial remarks, "After a decade of dithering by NFL owners on the question of whether and where to put a pro football team in Los Angeles, during which time construction costs have skyrocketed, the economic equation has changed so much that it may no longer pencil out."

The Times is not wasting time agonizing. In fact, this year, under sports editor Randy Harvey, its college football coverage has been improved, and we saw that demonstrated again last weekend with the tremendous coverage Times sportswriters gave UCLA's near miss at upsetting Notre Dame.

This was a game for the ages, and the Times had the grace to put a nice picture of Fighting Irish heroes Brady Quinn and Jeff Samardzija beside the top of the lead article. It was Brady's pass to the all-American Samardzija that won the game for the Irish.

There was quite a bit of criticism of UCLA play calling after the game, but T.J. Simers, the Times' impudently humorous sports columnist, came back to the subject a day or two later to show, in one of his serious articles, that the options to pass instead of run the ball, when UCLA was trying for a game-clinching first down, were not all that good. After all, Notre Dame defeated Michigan State on a pass interception when State tried to run out the clock by passing. It is very hard, teams have found, to spoil the luck of the Irish.

I don't want to shock my audience too much, but the only thing better than having USC and UCLA playing in L.A., would be to have Notre Dame move here permanently. That would be far more satisfactory than acquiring a pro team.

L.A., as the Times editorial points out, hardly needs a pro football team to esteem itself. Now, if we can only get a home-owned newspaper, we'd have everything.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

President Bush's News Conference Unsatisfactory On Several Counts

Less than two weeks before the midterm elections, President Bush was trying this morning to put as favorable as possible a spin on the situation in Iraq, at a news conference essentially asking the American people to give him more time to fight the war as he sees fit.

But the U.S. has been at war in Iraq for more than three and a half years, and the President apparently is unwilling to make the fundamental adjustments necessary to put American forces there on a sounder footing. I know he said he will not be patient forever, but he has already been patient far too long.

Specifically, first, it seems to me that it is high time, in fact long past time, that Mr. Bush should put a new person at the Defense Department to take charge of the war effort. Again, at the news conference, he gave strong support to the secretary since before the war began, Donald Rumsfeld.

But Rumsfeld is past 70 years of age, he has made countless mistakes, and he must go before it will likely be possible to aright matters. No other president in American history would have stuck with Rumsfeld so long.

Second, the President would not say clearly at the news conference that he would put more pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki to take new steps to curb the sectarian violence which has turned Iraq into a bloody free-for-all as thousands of innocent citizens are killed simply because of being Sunnis or Shiites.

Maliki has been protecting the slimy leader of the Shiite Militias, Moktada al-Sadr, in the attacks--massacres and torture are the proper words--against Sunnis in the country. Just this morning, he objected to an American raid against these murderous thugs.

Unless Maliki complies with U.S. policy, he ought to be removed from power forthwith. The situation is too critical, and we have too high a responsibility, for us to stick with a government that is so dysfunctional. Either Maliki shapes up, or he must be shipped out. It would be no disservice to the cause of Iraqi democracy were incompetents and neer-do-wells stripped of power.

The news conference lasted an hour, and I was surprised, by the way, that none of the reporters asked the President whether he objects to the racist Republican National Committee ad against Democratic candidate Harold Ford in the Tennessee U.S. Senate race, the Republican candidate's letter threatening Hispanic voters in an Orange County congressional race, or the suggestions of the GOP candidate against Sen. Hilary Clinton in New York that she is ugly.

None of these scurrilous campaign tactics can possibly be defended by honorable people of either party, and it would have been instructive to ascertain whether Mr. Bush would clearly disavow them.

Much as I continue to believe that the war in Iraq is important, Mr. Bush could not have been convincing to many Americans this morning. There remains every prospect of Democratic control of the House and Senate after the Nov. 7 election.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Will Joe Hutchinson Ruin The Times With HIs Terrible Type Faces?

There may be a race between potential buyers (rescuers) of the L.A. Times and Joe Hutchinson, the ditzy "creative editor" who is bidding to ruin the newspaper with his terrible type faces.

On a day that the Chicago Tribune has a story saying that would-be buyers of Tribune assets, such as its newspapers, TV stations and the Chicago Cubs, have been asked to come forward with tentative offers by the end of the month, the Times appears in its new design, with the cheap tabloid-looking type faces apparently inspired by Hutchinson.

This fellow has done more harm since being foisted on the Times by the Tribune Co. than possibly anyone else, and that is saying a lot, because they have sent the paper an assortment of hucksters, along with some pretty good people, like John Carroll, Dean Baquet, John Puerner and, as it ultimately turned out, Jeffrey Johnson. Most of the good guys are now gone.

The one possible saving grace of the new design is the move of the editorial pages to the main news section, and Andres Martinez, Nick Goldberg and others on those pages did their best, and it was quite good, to explain what they are doing, in Monday's paper.

To their credit, they publish a number of critical letters from readers of the Times on the new design in today's letter's column.

Even if the editorial pages do look good in their new position, that does not balance the fact that the news hole in Section A has been further reduced in these first days since the design was introduced.

Foolishly, the editors have retained the space-wasting two summary pages at the beginning of the section, when one would do very nicely.

But the worst part of the new design is the type faces, which see the poor type faces often used in Calendar moved onto Page 1. This badly cheapens the newspaper.

Can nothing, at this point, save the Times?

Only a new, more sensible owner. His or her first step should be to retire Hutchinson.

The Tribune story this morning talks mainly about bids from outsiders to Los Angeles, and doesn't mention the Los Angelenos who have expressed interest in buying the paper. But this might have been because of selective editing in Chicago.

Meanwhile, my son-in-law forwards today an article in Slate which reflects its old editor, the newspaper-hating Michael Kinsley's, point of view that newspapers do not really perform much of a useful public service.

It all goes to show that when Jeff Johnson fired Kinsley as editorial page editor, he should have slipped him a long-lasting sedative at the same time.


Monday, October 23, 2006

Situation Along Israeli Borders Drifting Toward Violence Once Again

With all the justified focus on the war in Iraq, the situation involving the Arab-Israeli conflict has not been getting quite so much attention. But a number of recent developments are foreboding.

Since the cease fire in the Israel-Hezbollah war Aug. 14, the Israel-Lebanon border has been quiet. But now there are reports that Hezbollah continues to rearm, the United Nations force and the weak Lebanese Army have been ineffective at preventing this, and, nearby, the Assad regime in Syria has been making threats to initiate action against Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, an area which has been quiet since 1973.

Just last week, the French commander of the U.N. force warned Israel about further Lebanese overflights, asking them to stop. The Israelis responded that since Hezbollah is rearming, the overflights will continue.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, has undertaken an inspection tour of army units on the Golan Heights, seized from Syria in the six-day war. Given the Assad threats, the units are being strengthened and brought to a high state of preparedness. On the one hand, Israel has warned Syria that an attack on the Golan Heights would be met with a devastating response against Syrian installations. On the other, the Israeli Olmert government is said to think Assad is merely blustering and does not mean to do anything in the near future.

No such sanguine assessment is coming from the Israelis on the situation in Gaza, where clashes between Palestinians and Israeli armed units are occurring almost on a daily basis. A considerable number of deaths has resulted, and the Israelis are talking of plans to take possession of the Egypt-Gaza border area to prevent the smuggling of additional arms into Gaza. Israeli intelligence believes Hezbollah and its Iranian patrons are trying to arm Gaza terrorists more substantially, and they note that Gaza rocket attacks on southern Israel have not ceased.

As far as the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, whose kidnapping started the round of fighting in June, he has not been released, and now the Israelis have accused Iran of giving $50 million to Syria to prevent any release, despite continuing negotiations to do so.

Gaza is a powder keg, and may well be the next site of substantial Arab-Israeli warfare. But there are also internecine clashes between PaleStine Liberation Organization and Hamas factions. I don't normally quote Fox commentator Bill O'Reilly, but he is totally correct when he says, "The Islamists not only hate Jews and Christians, they hate each other."

The Israelis have had little to say publicly on the situation in Iraq, but they have to be concerned. A defeat of the Bush Administration in the Mid Term elections in two weeks could have ramifications eventually for American support of Israel, it doesn't take a genius to see that.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

First Impression Of L.A. Times Design Changes A Little Disquieting

It's probably too early to reach any solid judgments on the design changes that debuted in the L.A. Times this morning. We will know more when we see the weekday editions.

But the kind of headline used to lead Page 1 this morning featured the block print used, to poor effect, in the edition that reported the 9-11 terror attacks six years ago, and it is NOT handsome. The Times had a less attractive 9-11 banner than most of the nation's newspapers.

This shows the taste of Joe Hutchinson, the "creative director" of the newspaper, whose judgment in such matters is very questionable.

As for the decision to move editorials out of the back of the California section to the back of Section A, the main news section, we'll have to see. This, of course, brings the paper closer to the arrangement in the New York Times, which has worked well for them.

However, the New York Times does not saddle its news section with two summary pages toward the beginning, as the L.A. Times foolishly has been doing. If this continues, we're going to have the news section sandwiched between useless summary pages, and what has proven all too often goofy editorial pages. The effect might not be good, especially if the news hole continues to diminish under the inept Tribune Co. ownership.

Dean Baquet, the editor, in a front page note this morning, makes the claim that the new design, and further changes to come, are "all the result of much study of what our readers have told us they want from The Times."

Maybe, but this reminds me uneasily of Baquet's (negatively speaking) Freudian slip when he said the Times was not out to get President Bush.

It seems Hutchinson, not the readers, has been the inspiration of at least some of the design changes, and Hutchinson has a poor record. He has no feel for Los Angeles.

But, as I say, it's early. We will see what the weekday paper looks like.

There is also a full page advertisement today by David Hiller, the new Tribune Co. appointee as Times publisher, talking, in part, about his devotion to Los Angeles. In light of every appearance that Hiller was sent out here to enforce further cutbacks in the newspaper, this was not tasteful. Hiller apparently is trying to create a false impression of his dedication to the wellbeing of the Times. He's got to prove that; he can't just say it.

Design changes are always chancy. They destroyed the Saturday Evening Post years ago. At a time when newspaper layoffs are proceeding across the country, the latest announced just in recent days for the San Jose Mercury News and the Philadelphia Inquirer, we can only hope that the Times design changes do work, and don't spin the newspaper into further difficulty.


Sen. Barack Obama, reversing a position he took at the beginning of the year, now says he is considering whether to run for President in 2008. This is a welcome development, introducing an inspirational figure into the 2008 situation on the Democratic side. Whether Obama is ready for the presidency will be debated, if he runs, but he is older than Sen. John Kennedy was when he began his race for the presidency.


A particularly poignant column by Steve Lopez appeared this morning in the California section on the grieving of a Hemet family for their son, a soldier killed in Iraq. Lopez, as usual, wrote with great sensitivity and commendably avoided saying "I told you so," despite his steadfast opposition to the U.S. Iraq invasion from the beginning. There was also a news story on the death of Kenny Stanton, may he rest in peace/


Saturday, October 21, 2006

Three L.A. Times Articles On Insurance Worthy of Commendation

In my experience as a reporter, no industry qualified as "bad guys" more than the insurance industry. This is a profession which all too frequently fails to uphold its duties to its customers as a priority, but instead grasps for every excuse it can find not to pay claims. Through fine print in contracts that few read and even fewer understand, it finds its excuses not to pay, and through powerful lobbying efforts with corrupt officials, it protects itself with favorable laws.

It is all the more heartening then to find, in reading back issues of the L.A. Times for last weekend upon returning from my trip to New England, that in three separate articles, Times writers take on this squalid business.

The best of the articles came on the front page of Saturday, Oct. 14, when Molly Selvin raised a host of questions about long term care insurance, which is very heavily advertised to seniors, but has a bad record of finding excuses not to pay many large and long lasting claims.

Selvin dealt with egregious examples of policyholders not getting the benefits they had paid for, and certainly deserved. But she also showed how the immense liabilities of the insurers over the years to come make it unlikely they will have the wherewithal to pay all legitimate claims, even if they have the desire to.

The same day, the able Lisa Girion in the Business section resumed her occasional series on the derelictions of the highly profitable Blue Cross of California, a medical insurer.

Blue Cross has been cancelling many individual policyholders who make high claims, and, at long last, the state is coming after it on a few of these cancellations. But hospitals are also suing Blue Cross for approving medical care and then failing to pay the benefits, leaving poor Californians in the lurch with huge hospital bills.

A few days after this article appeared, Blue Cross did agree to settle a number of cases. Perhaps, the Girion articles on the insurer (Saturday's was not the first) assisted in achieving this result.

A confession is in order here. I carry Blue Cross as my medigap insurance, and my own experience with the company has been a good one. But when I wrote a Times consumer column, I found, like Girion has, that Blue Cross is by no means always scrupulous in the way it does business. It certainly deserves the critical scrutiny she has given it, and there is no question but that, since this company does have the resources to be honest, her articles may well have done some good.

On Sunday, Oct. 15, the Times Travel section had an extremely useful article, in the meantime, by James Gilden, on alleged fraud by Trip Assured, a Tennessee-based company which has failed to pay on legitimate travel insurance claims, often finding the most spurious excuses not to do so.

John Garamendi, California's outgoing insurance commissioner, who is now running for lieutenant governor, has now banned Trip Assured from doing business in California. Gilden quotes him as explaining, "This company's whole reason for being appears to be to defraud and intimidate senior citizens." Several other states have also banned Trip Assured.

All three of these articles do a public service, and the Times, with some exceptions such as Peter Nicholas' recent sometimes-misleading article on the insurance lobby's influence over Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, continues to do well in this area.


It was not about insurance, but Rosemary McClure's lead article in the Oct. 15 Travel section critiquing a tour she took of New England with the Trafalgar company also was a public service. The Times travel section under the late, often-admired editor, Jerry Hulse, seldom did this kind of article, and we ought to see ever more of them.

McClure fairly lays out many shortcomings in the Trafalgar tour. There are good companies out there, and it would also be appropriate to review some of them.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Iraq Crisis May Not Wait For The Election

It is growing all too obvious that the crisis in Iraq, with the Maliki "government" faltering, violence against American troops increasing, and Baghdad's violence beyond control, that a new strategy for the war cannot easily be put off until the Mid Term election.

Today, both the L.A. Times and the New York Times headline stories about statements made yesterday by U.S. Major Gen. William Caldwell IV, an official spokesman for the military command, that the situation in Baghdad is "disheartening" and that efforts to control the city perhaps must be "refocused."

In a second front page story, the L.A. Times reports that even many Republican Congressional candidates are turning against the Bush Administration on the war and asking for changes in U.S. policy, with some contending the Administration's defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, should be forced out.

When New York Times columnist Tom Friedman said this past week that the situation was comparable to the Tet offensive in the Vietnam war, with attacks against U.S. forces escalating before the election, even President Bush himself said that Friedman "could be right."

The election is now a little more than two weeks off, and it's become obvious that after the election, a new strategy may have to be implemented. The report of the Baker Commission, an official U.S. exploratory commission under the direction of former Secretary of State and White House Chief of Staff James Baker, will release its report on Iraq only after the election.

But can all this wait? This morning, the Sadr militias, a Shiite free lancer for sectarian violence believed close to Iran, are reported to have seized the southern Iraqi city of Amarah, recently vacated by the British and turned over to the Iraqis. Some U.S. military now regard these militias as a more important foe than the Sunni insurgents. Yet the Maliki government got one of the key Sadr militia aides released this week after he had been arrested by U.S. troops. As thousands die in internecine strife, Maliki does little or nothing to even try to stop the killing.

One question now is, and it is a burning one, whether after more than three years of war, the U.S. grip even over friendly Iraqis has been lost. There appears to be nothing even remotely resembling a friendly, efficient government under Prime Minister Nuri Maliki. Should he be deposed, and should we start over in an attempt to pacify Iraq? If even this attempt is made, it could be nothing could prevent the country unraveling into Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite enclaves.

As U.S. casualties have mounted this grim month, the Bush Administration seems dead in the water. Faced possibly with the loss of control of Congress in the Mid Term elections, it seems as if Mr. Bush has run out of ideas. Either he has, or he is struggling to get to the elections without admitting failure.

This is a very bad moment in the Iraqi intervention of the United States, no doubt about it.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Messy Flight on American Airlines, Boston To Los Angeles

There are many reasons why this year is going to see a Democratic landslide, with the probable exception of California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger seems bound to be reelected. Certainly, Iraq is the key factor, since President Bush has had more than three years to win the war AFTER he claimed the mission had been accomplished, but has not done so.

But there are other reasons as well, and I saw one of them yesterday, returning on American Airlines, Flight 145 from Boston to Los Angeles. Both the airline and the airport, LAX, fell down on the job.

This was a terrible flight, and it points up the business shortcomings all too common in American life, at a time when the Bush Administration has seemed dominated by corporate lobbying.

For an airline and an airport to function as poorly as American and LAX did yesterday is a disgrace. But, according to my travel agent, it is all too common a disgrace. She told me this morning that hardly a day goes by but she doesn't hear customer complaints about airlines and their terrible service.

As soon as boarding occurred yesterday afternoon in Boston, things did not seem right. The airplane was stifling as it sat there on the tarmac, and the pilot announced the auxiliary air conditioner was not working, and told us that his attempts, over an hour, to get a replacement had failed. None was available, he said.

Then, when we got aloft, American quickly ran out of snacks it was selling for $4. You don't get a meal in coach any more, even on a six-hour flight like this, but the airline has signs posted in the terminal that it will have snacks available for a charge.

With half the plane's passengers unserved, American ran out on Wednesday, and a stewardess told me this happens on virtually every flight. "We've told them time and again we need more than 25 snacks," she said of her airline. "They never listen."

Even the beverage servings on this flight seemed few and far between.

But the crowning display of incompetence and overcrowding of an airport came when we landed, on time, at LAX about 7:55 p.m.

The pilot came on to explain that no gates were available for the moment at the American terminal, due to a plane that had maintenance problems and was stuck at our gate. However, he assured us, it would be towed away from the gate in "five to ten minutes, so the wait won't be long."

As it turned out, we didn't get to the gate for an hour. About half way through the long wait, the pilot came on again to say they had not yet towed away the apparently disabled aircraft and that a second possible gate had failed to open, because there was another plane with a maintenance problem there.

As passengers with connections grew ever more anxious, the whole imbroglio seemed to reflect the fact that Los Angeles International (LAX) has become very dysfunctional. One of the strange parts of this episode was that our aircraft actually circled on the runways, passing one plane in a hangar three separate times. This could not but cause worry, since LAX has seen several recent episodes of planes almost running into each other.

Normally, I try to avoid LAX, using the more efficient Burbank airport instead, and traveling Southwest rather than American or United. Southwest seems much more efficient, even for functions as simple as loading an aircraft. It takes no more than 15 minutes on Southwest. For American, both in L.A. going East and Boston coming west, it took 45. Southwest's turnaround time is so much better, this explains in part, alone, why Southwest is consistently more profitable than American or United.

Wednesday's experience soured me finally on American Airlines, and further soured me on LAX. And it occurred to me, as I sat there with fellow-passengers that the time has certainly come in this country for a change, if only to help shut down these business lobbies in Washington who persistently seek special favors for themselves, while adopting a customer-be-damned attitude.

It seems as if Dennis FitzSimons, the inept Tribune Co. CEO, is spreading his wings to other corporations as well. They are cutting back on service, all in the interest of profits.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Threat Of Republican Fixing Of An Ohio Election

--Written from Center Harbor, N.H.

The greatest glory of any democracy is that a change of control over the state occurs without violence or undue disruption. It is vitally important that when the people decide, the politicians of both sides acquiesce.

So it is disquieting to read a New York Times editorial yesterday that reports there seems to be a threat, perhaps not a very great one at this point, but potentially a serious threat to the integrity of the gubernatorial race in Ohio.

Ted Strickland, the Democratic candidate, has a huge lead in the polls, as much as 28 points, over the Republican candidate, Kenneth Blackwell, who is Ohio's secretary of state and thus has considerable control over elections.

This is the same Kenneth Blackwell who came under suspicion in 2004 for taking steps to enhance President Bush's showing in the Presidential election, by depressing the Democratic turnout. Had Mr. Bush not won Ohio, he would have lost the election nationwide to Sen. John Kerry, because he would not have had a majority of the electoral votes. Even though Kerry trailed in the nationwide popular vote, with Ohio, he would have commanded the electoral college and won just as Mr. Bush did with a minority of the popular vote in 2000.

Now, Blackwell has become involved in a case in which it is claimed that the Democrat, Strickland, has registered to vote from an apartment he did not actually live in. Though there is no doubt Strickland is an Ohioan and a legal resident, there appears to be a chance, even if slight, that before the election Blackwell could rule him off the ballot and be left standing as the only candidate left.

The New York Times remarks, "We are confident it will not come to that." But the Times editorial is also a warning to Blackwell not to try to fix the election.

Amen! Ohio, like the rest of the country, must be allowed to vote freely and fairly. If the Democrats win, they must prevail in the state of Ohio, and whereever else they get the most votes.

That should go without saying. But let's say it.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Fall Perfect For A Trip To New England

Written from Center Harbor, N.H.

The fall colors are at their peak in this New Hampshire village by the shores of Lake Winnepesauke, and although the day was grey and the temperature in its 40s here today, my hosts and I went out on a two and a half hour cruise on the lake, saw the resplendent summer mansions along the coastlines and ate bowls of hot chili for lunch on the ship, the Mount Washington. Then we went to a country market to buy corn and other ingredients for a dinner tonight at their home.

This is definitely the time to come to New England, even if you do have to bundle up some against the ever changing weather. Snow is maybe two weeks off here, but fall products, the cider, the great piles of pumpkins, the colored corn, the pies and preserves, are at their peak, sold in the country markets one sees in most villages.

I've been staying with my friend, Sydney Stewart, and her housemate, Diane Potter, both now retired. Sydney is housing me in her boathouse cabin on Lake Kanasatka, divided by only a mile from Lake Winnepesauke. From my well-heated cabin, you can look out through bay windows on the water and the red and yellow-leaved trees all around. Only an occasional boat breaks the calm of the lake.

Normally, during the summer months, Stewart has two cabins down by the water for rent to guests, either $850 or $550 a week, boats included. Given what you get, this is a bargain, and I'm lucky that Sydney is an old girl friend, from nearly 50 years ago, and invites me year after year, following my mini-reunion at Dartmouth College, over in Hanover. For inquiries about the rentals, you can write her at P.O. Box 869, Center Harbor, N.H. 03226.

It's a joy to see the bustling Dartmouth campus also at this time of year. Last Friday, the college had a huge bonfire and a series of parties to mark its homecoming weekend.

We, in the Class of 1960, have been greeting the class of 2010, the class just entered as first year students (they are no longer called "freshmen"), 50 years after we showed up on campus in 1956. Now, Dartmouth is coeducational and larger than it was when we came in to town.

Some 1,080 in the new class marched in the homecoming parade and then ran wildly around the bonfire, as the songs were sung and cheers were heard, the ever-renewing cycle of classes at a college that is the farthest north in the Ivy League. The earliest class to actually appear in the parade was the class of 1942, which means its members are 86 years old for the most part.

About 45 of my class of 813 (715 or so survive), were at the campus over the weekend for a cocktail party, a class meeting, a tailgate party, the football game with Holy Cross, a hike for those who don't like football, and then a class dinner. A month before, two dozen of us had gathered to present lanyards and pins to the 2010s just after convocation.

Hanover is a little further inland than Center Harbor and the color was a little past peak, but still individual trees stood out splendidly, their leaves a panoply of colors. On Saturday, it was chilly and a little windy. I confess I skipped the game and went back with my hosts, Tony and Lois Roisman, to their farm house in nearby Lyme, N.H.

There was a little talk over the weekend of Iraq, North Korea and the impending Mid Term elections, and it was clear that most classmates are expecting a Democratic victory. President Bush is not very popular in the class.

But the focus was on having a good time, and Monday morning, when I drove across northern New Hampshire and the White Mountains to Center Harbor, was a sparkling, sunny, but cold day. The temperature when I started out, through the covered bridge down by the Connecticut River on the way to Orford, was 35 degrees.

It's all pretty tantalizing to a Californian, but thank goodness I won't still be
here when the snow starts falling and everything turns to a deep freeze.


Monday, October 16, 2006

China And South Korea Bail Out On North Korean Sanctions

--Written from Center Harbor, N.H.

The United Nations system is failing us again in the aftermath of North Korea's nuclear test. Already, China and South Korea are using imprecise terms in the wording of the U.N. Security Council's resolution on sanctions to indicate it will be business as usual for them with the Kim Jong Il regime. In order to escape a veto, the U.S. had to agree to allow the resolution to request, not require, actions against North Korea.

The consequence is that once again, the U.N. has fallen on its face. In recent years, this woebegotten organization has proved more a facilitator of tyranny and even genocide than a control over it. Now, in the case of North Korea, and probably Iran as well, the U.N. is proving useless in stopping nuclear proliferation.

What we saw in Rwanda, in Darfur, in East Timor and so forth we are now seeing again: the incapacity of an international organization to take any meaningful steps to keep the peace.

North Korea, in short, seems to have gotten away with it, despite all the vows of President Bush, the Japanese governent and others that they would not accept or tolerate a North Korean nuclear weapon. In fact, there are now signs of a possible second North Korean test.

Even the U.S. shows little sign thus far of following through with permitted inspections of North Korean vessels to prevent an arms trade which threatens stability far beyond the area of East Asia.

We live in a time, due in part to the Iraq war and all the difficulties it has caused for the U.S., when very large numbers are adopting a policy of escapism: They foolishly contend now that North Korea is really not our business. They say we should let South Korea or China handle the problem.

The trouble with that policy is that North Korea's number one target in the world, after South Korea perhaps, is the United States.

A North Korean atomic bomb is threat enough to us, but if that bomb is sold to terrorists, or if the knowhow ie exported to foreign countries, some day there may be a nuclear explosion somewhere in America, and we won't even know the origin. For it's certain that the most foolproof way of delivering a nuclear weapon is not by missile but by smuggling it in to another country and then detonating it.

This is why we can't turn our heads. Contrary to those who say we can afford to withdraw from world power conflicts and then the world will let us alone, there is no sign that enemies of the U.S. and the American system of democracy will let us alone, even if we let them alone.

In these circumstances, we must be our own defender. Neither the U.N., nor anybody else, can protect us adequately.


Sunday, October 15, 2006

American Traitor In Al Qaeda Threatens Terrorist Expert Steve Emerson

--written from Lyme, N.H.

The effort of Muslim terrorists to scare the West out of freedom of speech can be seen in the report this morning that Adam Gadahn, the traitor from Orange County who has been broadcasting propaganda for Osama bin Laden, has insisted upon the conversion to Islam of Steve Emerson, the U.S. expert on terrorism, and three others.

Emerson says he is taking precautions. After all, such insistence has come against various hostages to the terrorists, who are threatened with death unless they convert. Two Fox newsmen did convert to Islam under duress in order to secure their release from captivity. They rightfully repudiated the conversions when they were freed.

Particularly since the Pope's remarks questioning violence in Islam, there has been a step up of such threats and criminal actions. A Catholic nun was murdered in Somalia shortly after the Pope spoke, and there was another murder of a Catholic priest in Turkey in the furore over Danish cartoons critical of the Prophet Mohammed.

In many cases Muslims take exceptional umbrage against Western critics, but say nothing about suicide bombings, beheadings and other crimes committed by their co-religionists.

But peace and tolerance must be a two way street. If Muslim fundamentalists demand respect, they must give it in return.

There is high handedness at the least in the Minneapolis Muslim taxi drivers who refuse to carry passengers who are carrying bottles of liquor or seeing-eye dogs.

As for Gadahn, he has now been indicted. When he does fall into American custody, as he will, he ought to be made to pay in full for joining the enemy.


Saturday, October 14, 2006

A Ray Of Hope In Iraq--Al Qaeda Killing Insurgents

--Written from Lyme, N.H.

In Lawrence Wright's excellent book, "The Looming Tower," he suggests that one hope in the present situation is that al-Qaeda is so murderous an organization that it has, and will again, unravel into internecine strife.

These scoundrels have already murdered a mentor. They believe there are so many justifications of killing that they may well end by killing each other, with great regularity. Their resources, Wright also suggests, are not unlimited.

I like these ideas, and I notice in the New York Times today, deep in an article about Iraq, a paragraph that states that Al Arabiya, a Dubai-based television network, has broadcast a video of a man identifying himself as an insurgent leader in Iraq and calling for Osama bin Laden to allow an Iraqi to take over the leadership of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. The man said Iraqi insurgents had been killed by forces under the command of Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian who succeeded Abu Musab al Zarqawi when Zarqawi was killed by U.S. forces.

We have to hear more about this, much more, to be sure that the forces opposing ours in Iraq have become riven by rivalies. But this is not the first of such reports.

However, if we persevere, perhaps more of this will occur, and provide an eventual solution for us. Al Qaeda fighting the insurgents, what a delightful idea. It would be like the Arabs killing each other in Gaza.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Two Experts On North Korea Have Sharply Conflicting Views

--Written from Boston

The New York Times ran two articles on American policy toward North Korea at the top of its Op Ed page in the last couple of days with sharply conflicting views. One portrayed the regime of Kim Jong Il as a suitable negotiating partner. The other said he is a fascist, with possibly suicidal inclinations.

No surprise, it is former President Jimmy Carter who thinks we can negotiate. Carter was the man who sent Ramsey Clark to negotiate with Khomeini and subsequently lost his presidency in the Iranian hostage crisis. He has been a far better ex-president than a president, however, and he negotiated a "settlement" that collapsed with North Korea more than a decade ago.

B.R. Myers is an associate professor of North Korean studies at Korea University. He is not so sanguine about Kim Jong Il as Mr. Carter.

"While Kim may not be suicidal himself, he shares Hirohito's penchant for encouraging this quality in his people," Myers writes. "Defense until Death, is an increasingly popular slogan. In 2003 a colorful poster was disseminated to the foreign press showing a fat missile in flight with a suicide-readiness slogan on it. "Yankee, take a good hard look." That isn't bad advice."

Myers compares North Korea today to the Japanese Empire that took the country into World War II.

At a time when the Bush Administration seems to be waffling on its response to North Korea's small nuclear test, and the United Nations is already proving it can't take tough measures, with China and Russia the key obstacles, we have a large stake in whether Mr. Carter or Mr. Myers is right. Unfortunately, I'd bet on Mr. Myers and believe that action to change the North Korean regime, rather than negotiations, offers the best prospect.

This is a hard judgment, but in light of Kim Jong Il's record -- mass counterfeiting of American money, terrorism in the air, executions at home, famine for his people, a determination to have nuclear weapons -- I believe that ultimately it is the safer and sounder one.

Carter's article may be compelling. He is always the creature of sweet reason. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work when it comes to tyrants.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

L.A. Times Self Starters May Have Good Ideas, But Will Require Tribune Support

--Written from Boston

Of course, it's good to read in the New York Times today that a L.A. Times task force headed by Marc Duvoisin and inspired or composed of such imaginative staffers as Vernon Loeb, Glenn Bunting and T. Christian Miller, is going to explore new ways of overhauling the newspaper with an aim of attracting and relating to new readers.

But this cannot be done, in my view, without some willingness on the part of Tribune Co., the present unimaginative owners, to spend some money on the improvements. And to pay for a marketing campaign to publicize them.

The Times appointed Joel Sappell to head its Internet operations a while back, but then, the Tribune executives wouldn't authorized any money for improvements, and he hasn't been able to do much with the Internet site, which is pretty woeful now. The Tribune simply hasn't invested in the paper, creating a terrible situation.

I was discussing it today, with a friend who leads a big Eastern investment firm. I compared the Tribune executives to Richard Nixon, specifically mentioneding their inability, like Nixon's, to grow into a bigger job.

The Tribune Co. bought the L.A. Times and other Times-Mirror papers in 2000, but since then it has allowed all its papers to deteriorate, because it was unable to cope with demands of the Internet age. The Tribune executives apparently suffer from an inferiority complex, like Nixon, and are unable to perform. Another thing is, they are too beholden to Wall Street, which customarily opposes virtually all initiatives in American life.

The new task force undoubtedly will come up with some good ideas. It is a talented group. But virtually every idea costs some money to get started. Certainly, creating new sections would.

In the meantime, I hope the task force can agree with management to dispense with these Macy's ads wrapped around news sections. They have been building contempt for the newspaper, and are an idea that repels readers, not attracts them.

The New York Times article says both Dean Baquet and the new publisher, David Hiller, were convening a meeting today to set the task force on course. This will be an opportunity for Hiller to show that he truly is interested in the paper's future.

But I fear that in order to do that, he is going to have to follow his two predecessors, the ousted John Puerner and Jeff Johnson, and defy the deadheads in Chicago.


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

AP-Pew Poll Shows Interest in Mid-Term Election Higher Than 1994

In yet another ominous sign for the Republicans, an Associated Press-Pew poll out today shows that interest in the Mid-Term election, particularly among Democratic voters, is quite a bit higher than normal, higher, in fact, than in 1994, a year the Republicans swept into control of both houses of Congress.

Generally, the higher the interest in an election, the higher the turnout, and when the interest soars on the opposition side, woe to the party in power.

With Iraq, North Korea, a feeling that the living standards of the middle class are deteriorating and now the Foley scandal, it should come as no surprise that President George W. Bush's administration, and Republicans in general, are not faring too well in the forthcoming election.

But the new poll fleshes that out by reporting that politics as a subject of conversation is at its highest in more than a decade.

Of 1,503 registered voters interviewed, 70% say they are talking politics with their family and friends, 43% say they are talking it at work, and 28% say they are talking it at church.

There is a definite residue of past contested elections in Florida and Ohio, both won by Bush, that is shown in the fact that 45% of the Democrats surveyed are very confident their votes will be counted this November, and only 30% of African-Americans.

Still, the survey reports, Democratic voter interest, driven by anger over the war and optimism Democrats can win in November, is much higher than normal, while Republican interest is about the same.

Something could still happen before the election to change views, but the time is growing short. I expect a Democratic victory of startling proportions.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Matea Gold's Fabulous Articles On Fox News

It's hardly necessary to say that Matea Gold, the L.A. Times media correspondent based in New York, is an outstanding journalist, and, for someone covering the media, unusually fair.

Two articles authored by Gold in last Sunday's Calendar section dealt with what for some reporters is an impossible subject: Fox News. It has proved all too easy for many to dump all over the network, which has often been criticized for its conservative ideological slant but which has emerged as the number one cable news network by far in terms of audience numbers.

Gold's lead article, headlined, "Up next, wrangling respect," told of moves at Fox News to establish a more solid journalistic reputation, and a second article dealt with Scott Shepard, a Fox evening news anchor who has been establishing a good record as a straightforward journalist, unlike, for example, Bill O'Reilly, who almost always has an ideological slant. Shepard appears at 4 p.m. on weekdays in Los Angeles.

Gold writes, "Partisan quarrels and punditry get little play from Smith," and in both articles, she is, as usual, incisive but understanding of what Fox is trying to do.

With Democratic prospects high in the forthcoming Mid-Term elections, it has probably occurred to the Fox executives that they have to lean at least a little toward developing national sentiments on the Iraq war and other subjects. The Gold article thus comes at a crucial moment for Fox News.

Before going to New York, Gold was a Times political writer. She came to the Times at 22, if memory serves me, as a UCLA student on an internship, and like many outstanding interns she ended up at the paper on the long term.

Let's hope that with Tribune Co. mismanagement of the Times, she does not move to the New York Times, which she undoubtedly could with little trouble.


The editors of the recently-revised West magazine, the L.A. Times Sunday magazine, have been trying hard to make it a better product, and, occasionally, succeeding. I was particularly impressed last Sunday with a short piece of fiction titled "Fire," which was the first published story by Susan Klenner, a retired real estate broker.

This story about a young girl and a wild dog was extremely touching and well written. Let's hope it's only the first of many Klenner stories for the magazine.


Monday, October 09, 2006

In North Korea's Case, Only Military Action, Not Sanctions, Will Suffice

The United States is off on the same fruitless course, using the useless United Nations, in trying to curb North Korea after its presumed nuclear test. And the talk is of sanctions, not military force.

But only military force, in my view, will suffice to deal with the regime of Kim Jong Il, before he has accumulated enough nuclear weapons to be uncontrollable. We can't afford to wait until he starts selling his nukes to the terrorists, Iran, Syria, or someone else. We can't afford to wait until Japan, South Korea and a whole host of other countries start to develop their own nuclear arms.

Perhaps, it is not so outlandish to think that that military action would come from China.

Last night, it was notable that the Chinese used a very strong word to describe the nuclear test. They called it "brazen," (and followed it up today with "fragrant") and when the North Koreans did them the courtesy of notifying them, in advance that the test was imminent, the Chinese immediately sent an emergency message to the U.S., saying the event would occur at any moment. So the Bush Administration learned of it from them just before it happened.

This sequence of events betrays the fact that the Chinese are now very concerned. They could act in a quasi-military way to cut off oil to North Korea, leaving the regime there to wither on the vine. Or they could do something even more dramatic. They might not have the scruples we would have.

It is worth remembering that when Pol Pot went wild in Cambodia after the North Vietnamese had won the Vietnam war, Vietnam finally turned on him and invaded militarily to oust that fanatical regime. Similarly, Tanzania finally took action against Idi Amin's Uganda. Regimes that are truly crazy often have to be removed by military force. Just like cults have to be eradicated.

As for President Bush, he has, so far, not been helped by the nuclear test. It compounded his problems in the Mid-Term election, because it shows him unable to perform on his promises.

Mr, Bush said a nuclear-armed North Korea was "unacceptable," and he said he would not "tolerate" a nuclear North Korea, but so far today, all he has done is go to the U.N. He hasn't taken any action. He's beginning to look, as he has for some time in Iraq, like a wimp.

Now, there's a word not too many have used about him, but fortified with all the attention I got today from Al Martinez, I'm doing so. It's best, I think, to recognize that the situation we face with nuclear proliferation is despierate, since we are the prime target.


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Time Magazine Slips Further Into Appeasement Mode

(Only hours after this was written, the North Korean dictatorship announced it had conducted an underground nuclear test, and the U.S. said it had detected a seismic event in North Korea. This, I believe, represents a terrible failure of will by the Bush Administration. North Korean nuclear facilities should have been attacked last week, and should be attacked now, without delay. Certainly, going to the United Nations will be a waste of time).

Time magazine has, in recent months, slipped further into views reminiscent of the British appeasement advocates of the 1930s. It reaches a new low this week when it suggests, initially on its Web site, but perhaps in the forthcoming week in the magazine itself, that the U.S. enter into bilateral talks with the North Koreans.

Such a policy would make America susceptible to North Korean extortion. There would be no end to what this tyranny would ask us to do to get it to promise to end its quest for nuclear arms and its sales of such technologies to others. And then, as in the past, when the Clinton Administration made concessions, it would violate any pledges it had made and go right ahead with its nuclear development. In other words, talking with the North Koreans would be self-defeating.

What Time and its dilettante editors seem to want more and more is that we give in to the exponents of violence all around the Earth, in hopes they can be dissuaded from their designs on America, Japan and Western European countries. They are wrong, I believe. Psychopaths only gain determination to continue their mayhem when people give in to them.

Time is preaching folly of the worst sort. Unless we resist the Kim Il Jongs and the Mahmound Ahmedinejads of the present world, they are more and more going to dominate the Earth. They will not be dissuaded by appeasement from pursuing their evil agendas, and we, by entering into talks with them, can only lose, possibly everything.

Time casts it this week as recognizing reality, and sees a choice between that and, in the North Korean case at least, regime change.

Rather than give in on our values I favor regime change, but not necessarily by injecting the U.S. military into another long, stalemated war, as in Iraq. Means such as selective bombing, or timely assassinations of tyrants, might prove more effective. We might be able to enable the North Korean people, on their own, to rid themselves of the dictator.

If North Korea entices the U.S. into direct talks, through threatening a nuclear test or actually staging one, it will only be the first sip of a bitter cup it shall offer us time and again in the years ahead. We cannot afford to let that happen. This regime must be given a shove, and warned very clearly that any North Korean attack on South Korea, Japan or us will be met with a full nuclear response, and the resulting end of North Korea.

It's a difficult time for the Bush Administration, and the Mid-Term elections may make only it more difficult. Still, the consequences of giving in to North Korea, or Iran for that matter, are too awful to contemplate.


Michael Kinsley, stung bitterly by his ouster as the incredibly ditsy editor of the Los Angeles Times editorial pages, seems to have gone off the deep end in his resentment at the paper and of Jeffrey Johnson, the publisher who wisely dispensed with his services.

Kinsley, who is now writing for the Left wing Guardian paper in England, Time magazine and elsewhere, this morning, in space he was foolishly given in the L.A. Times Current section, envisions folding the L.A. Times into a "National Tribune" paper that would somehow join the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times into a new national publication. This almost certainly will never be.

But I do agree with Kinsley, in his latest article, when he says the L.A. Times Web site is the worst of any major newspaper these days. One reason, of course, is that the Tribune Co. refuses to allow it to make any investments into a better product.


Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Ken Starr Crony David Hiller Has Certainly Been A Right Winger

We are getting to know more about David Hiller, the hatchet man sent out here by an ugly executive of the worst stripe, Tribune Co. CEO Dennis FitzSimons, to deal further body blows to the quality of the Los Angeles Times.

It's not pretty. Nikki Finke and John Amato tell us that one of Hiller's chief distinctions was that he once urged setting up concentration camps for Haitian and Cuban refugees. While at the Justice Department in the Reagan Administration, he worked with Ken Starr, later the persecutor of President Clinton, and the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Roberts, who in his first term at the high court sank to being as much to the right as Justices Scalia and Thomas.

This is not a man who is qualified to become publisher of the L.A. Times, even if he had not, as publisher of the Chicago Tribune, talked of making that paper a tabloid. He is another Mark Willes, with little experience in journalism.

So, it is understandable that at the Times, all sorts of efforts are underway to counteract the views of the Ugly Chicagoan and to support the courageous editor, Dean Baquet, who, against all odds, has apparently decided to stay on for now.

Thanks to the courageous Vernon Loeb, Frank Clifford, Henry Weinstein and Jim Newton, a new employee petition is being circulated to demonstrate the solidarity of the staff with Baquet, criticize the disgraceful termination of publisher Jeffrey Johnson and oppose further cutbacks.

Also, as Kevin Roderick reports in L.A. Observed this morning, a number of Times foreign correspondents are sporting Baquet T-shirts.

The L.A. Times editorial page meanwhile today runs several letters lamenting Tribune changes at the newspaper.

And Tim Rutten has weighed in with yet another well reasoned column about the importance of newspapers and the stakes for American Democracy if a newspaper like the Times is allowed to fail.

Is all this making an impression in Chicago? Perhaps not more than Mahatma Gandhi's letter to Adolf Hitler did in 1939. Gandhi pleaded for peace, but Hitler went right ahead with his plans for war. And it could be that FitzSimons is just as impervious to pressure as a Fascist thug. Here is a man who seems to care more for his salary and perks than doing a responsible job as CEO of a major news organization.

Tom Mulligan writes in today's L.A. Times Business section that Tribune seems determined not to sell the L.A. Times piecemeal, though he does say that the committee of Tribune directors appointed to examine the company's prospects, might be prepared to sell the company whole. He speculates that private equity investors may be more interested in such a purchase than they were to purchase Knight-Ridder, and he also alludes to the fact that perspective Los Angeles investors like Eli Broad or David Geffen could put together a team to buy all of Tribune.

Mulligan doesn't say so, but if a California group bought Tribune, it would open an opportunity to screw the Chicago Tribune as badly as the Tribune Co. has screwed the L.A. Times. The corporate headquarters would move to Los Angeles, and the Tribune building in Chicago could be sold, perhaps to a mobster.

And yet, we just don't know. It might be that behind the scenes, FitzSimons is about to quit and dismember Tribune with a series of sales. But it might be he and Scott Smith will hold on to a day of final reckoning, when the whole empire collapses. They seem many times to be deadenders.

Whatever is the case, there can be no real hope that Hiller will prove as convertible to the virtues of living in California and the Times as a great newspaper as John Puerner or Jeff Johnson, who publishers sent here from Chicago, went native and were finally forced out.

No, Hiller is more like a supervisor sent to one of those concentration camps he wanted to form. We cannot count on him to be either reasonable or humane. Los Angeles must be rid of him--as soon as possible.


Friday, October 06, 2006

Already, The Lies Have Begun About David Hiller

Already, this morning, the new L.A. Times, now under the total control of the squalid Tribune Co., as it works to downgrade the newspaper, has begun conveying falsehoods about the ouster of Jeffrey Johnson as publisher and his replacement by the low life lawyer, David Hiller.

We see it in Michael Hiltzik's story this morning mentioning Hiller's former associations, and omitting the fact that he worked with star chamber prosecutor Ken Starr.

We see it in the tone of the weak Rainey story, with no mention that in the midst of personal trials and tribulations, disease in his family, Johnson was summarily forced out without so much as a word of honest explanation.

We see it in Hiller's assertion he hasn't made his mind up about what to do in Los Angeles.

In fact, he is here under orders to implement the Chicago subjugation of Los Angeles and the bastardization of the Times.

This man, as Frank Cruz, a commentator to yesterday's blog said, should be shunned. He should be forced out of Los Angeles, on a rail if necessary.

There is no place for the Tribune Co. in Los Angeles, and new methods must now be used to remove this awful company from the L.A. Times, from Los Angeles and from California. Not only has Tribune insisted continually on cost cuts and profit increases at the Times, but it has refused permission for efforts to reverse the circulation slide and enhance the web site. It and its executives are profoundly negative, a disgrace to even the business world.

Incidentally, it is noticeable this morning that the Times editorial page has no editorial on yesterday's events. The reason is the cowardice of editorial page editor Andres Martinez, the man who dismissed all the Pulitzer Prize winners on his staff. Martinez values only one thing, and that's to save his job. He should be among the first to be removed when the Times reverts to local ownership.

I sympathize with editor Dean Baquet, who wants to fulfill his responsibilities. But his role has been sabotaged already, and I think he should resign and go somewhere where his talents will be better appreciated. Certainly, he cannot subject himself to the direction of such a contemptible character. All we need to know about Hiller to know he's no good is that he works willingly under Dennis FitzSimons and Scott Smith at Tribune Co.

Again, there is no place in California for the Tribune Co. It must be removed, and all nonviolent means to that end ought to be used.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Jeff Johnson Acted Honorably At L.A. Times; Now, A Curse On His Successor

Jeff Johnson was a brave man, who lived up to his highest responsibilities, to protect the newspaper which he had been assigned to lead. He could easily have continued to be a Chicago toady, subservient to inept and unscrupulous businessmen from an inferior city, but he changed in Los Angeles. He became loyal to the L.A. Times, to Los Angeles and to California. Honor to him. Unlike most businessmen, he deserves every bit of praise that can be given him.

And Dennis FitzSimons and Scott Smith can best be compared tonight to the people who have starred in the other business disgraces of recent years. Their goal has been for some time now to ruin the L.A. Times and sacrifice the lives and careers of the people who work for it. They are as destructive and degenerate as Ken Lay or Bernie Ebbers could possibly have been.

Curses on them! And curses on the man they appointed to succeed Mr. Johnson, David Hiller, a low class lawyer who worked with Ken Starr no less, and who has come to Los Angeles to wield FitzSimons' axe.

The suitable reception to Hiller is to put the kind of stink bombs in his office that were once used in Chicago to protest the thuggish police of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Those L.A. Times staffers who say Hiller should be given a chance are mistaken. This is a man who has spoken of making the Chicago Tribune a tabloid. He knows no more about journalism than Mark Willes did. He's a fucking lawyer, for goodness sake!

Hiller should be made to feel as unwelcome in Los Angeles as the Nazis were in Norway after they occupied the country on April 9, 1940.

As for Dean Baquet, I think there is no point in his trying to captain a sinking ship. If he has a good job offer somewhere else, like the Washington Post, he should take it. He probably can do no more than he has already done. And his departure at a time like this might put another nail into the Chicago coffin.

Also, we can legitimately have nothing but contempt for David Useem, the professor at the Wharton School who suggested today that it was highly proper that Johnson be fired after defying the policies of the home office. No wonder Useem is a professor at a business school, when we all know that businessmen are mostly highly unethical jackasses, without a care in the world for anything but making money. They have given up every value they may have had as children and become ethically contemptible.

Fortunately, though, the Tribune Co. will be making less money. It is running all its properties into the ground. Its nutty executives can think only of serving Wall Street in a desperate hope that their stock price will go up. Wise investors will now let it sink like a rock.

Meanwhile, the L.A. Times, perhaps, should be replaced. The municipal leaders who have sought to buy the newspaper could form their own newspaper, hire the Times staff and the Times' remaining subscribers could then drop the Tribune Company's paper like a hot potato. This would be a possible solution to the present troubles.

In the meantime, go home, Mr. Hiller. Get out of Los Angeles! What we need here is a kind of insurrection that will blow this bunch of scoundrels back to their rightful places in the sewers of Chicago. Let's hope FitzSimons drops into them and doesn't come up.


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Woodward Suggests Iraq Now A Crisis, And Bush May Have To Seek Coalition

--written from San Carlos, California

Bob Woodward on the Larry King show the other night called the Iraq war a crisis, and suggested that after the Mid-Term election President Bush may have to bring the Democrats into his government as a kind of coalition.

It is an arresting idea, one of many from the famed Washington Post writer, who, after years of backing the President now seems deeply disillusioned.

As Woodward spoke out, a new poll shown on NBC Nightly News indicated that between the Foley scandal abd the Woodward book, the Democrats have taken a major jump in the polls, with 46% saying they support Democrats for Congress and only 32% Republicans. Bush's numbers have sunk to 39% favorable, after mounting slightly the previous month.

All indications are that this is going to be a big Democratic year, very possibly a sweep of 10 of the most contested Senate elections and control over both the House and Senate. As Woodward points out, this would confront the President with an entirely new situation. In order to maintain even a semblance of support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he probably would indeed have to reach out to the Democrats, assuming they were reachable.

But they might be, since it's also plain there is no Democratic consensus on what to do about Iraq. Many who are not favorable to the war, still hesitate to simply withdraw American troops and leave it to the terrorists.


Sad news comes today of one of the death of one of the most illustrious of the New York Times reporters, R.W. Apple, whose political, foreign affairs and food writing graced the paper for many years. Apple was an indefatigable reporter for decades, something of a dove in foreign affairs, always conscientious and liberal enough to give even those he thought questionable their due. Toward the end of his life, he was a distinguished food writer, traveling the world in search of unusually fine restaurants and exotic foods. It is hard to believe he is gone. Just Sunday, Apple was in the New York Times with an article on the foods of Singapore. He will certainly be missed throughout the journalistic world.


An anonymous commentator to this blog is bitterly critical of New York Times travel writer Joe Sharkey, who narrowly escaped death in a collision of airplanes over the Brazilian jungle. In fact, contrary to what the commentator says, the crash was not at all the fault of Sharkey from everything we know about it, and this man or woman has carried antipathy to Sharkey, an excellent reporter, much too far. I personally admire Sharkey.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Bomb The North Korean Nuclear Facilities--Now

--written from Carlsbad, California

The time has come to stop mere words on the North Korean nuclear threats and take action, bombing the North Korean nuclear sites. It ought to be done without further delay.

North Korea's threat to test its nuclear weapons must not be met with further bluster. Two American administrations, Clinton's and Bush's, have said that a North Korea nuclear capacity is unacceptable. Since the foul dictatorship of Kim Il Jong apparently is not listening, we ought to act.

The cost and danger to the U.S. of the North Koreans being allowed to further develop their nuclear arms is immense. If a nuclear device is exploded, it probably means that Japan, and even possibly South Korea will develop nuclear weapons as well, since they could no longer trust in the U.S. to take timely action against the North Koreans. And we cannot rely on a fledgling anti-missile program of our own to reduce the danger to American cities of a nuclear-armed North Korea.

President Bush accurately called North Korea and Iran part of an axis of evil several years ago. Now is the time to act on North Korea and, if the Iranians go on with their nuclear enrichment, it will be time to act on them too.

Certainly, we cannot count on the United Nations to act to preserve the peace. We see already in the Middle East how worthless UN assurances are, as they waffle with implementation of the peacekeeping force in Lebanon and refuse to fight their way into the Sudan. This is an organization that is dying, and, pretty soon, in the world it's going to be each country for itself.

North Korea has gone too far with its threats this morning. And perhaps an attack on the North Korean coast also ought to include missile launching facilities. Despite the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have forces at the ready in the Far East, and they should not be used.

Fifty years ago, it was a mistake to end the war with North Korea in a truce. Now, we are paying for that folly.


Sen. Bill Frist, the Republican leader in the Senate, says on a visit to Kabul he is convinced the Afghan war cannot be won, and we ought to negotiate to bring the Taliban into the government. This would be like making an agreement to cut your own throat. Thank goodness, Frist is leaving government. He does not belong there.


Monday, October 02, 2006

Poor Mouthing America--The Views Of Al Martinez

In a letter to the L.A. Times today, Paul Hoffman of Irvine writes, "We are as bad as the Germans in the 1930s."

Utter nonsense? Of course, it is. The U.S. may have made some mistakes in the War on Terror, but there is no question we are committed to Democracy and morally superior to the barbarians who enjoy chopping people's heads off.

But this kind of drivil is increasingly the case these days, as witnessed by statements made last week by L.A. Times columnist Al Martinez, and Hollywood movie producer Oliver Stone. Both suggested they were ashamed of America.

Here's an imaginary discussion with Martinez and Stone. I don't think it exaggerates their views too much. But, as for Martinez, I've now softened it a bit. Also, it should be noted, this is meant as a satire, and these are not direct quotes. But it is fair to say I'm annoyed with both Martinez and Stone.

Q--What would you have done after 9/11?

Martinez--I'm not fond of Osama bin Laden, but I wouldn't have confronted him in Iraq. Maybe, he'd be more pleasant if we were nicer to him.

Stone--Made a wonderful movie about Osama. I love foreign cutthroats.

Q--Now, historically, what would you have done when the British Army went to Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775?

Martinez--On reflection, Al says he would have fought on the side of the Minutemen.

Stone--Hung Samuel Adams and Paul Revere, and pledged everlasting allegiance to the British Crown.

Q--And what would you have done if you were Abraham Lincoln when the Confederates seized Fort Sumter on April 15, 1861?

Martinez--Al's not for slavery, so he would have fought then too.

Stone--Nothing, until the South had voluntarily given up slavery.

Q--And what would you have done on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor?

Martinez--Having fought in Korea, where he decided war was not usually a good idea, Al says he thinks World War II was justified and would have fought in it. Actually, it becomes clear that as far as the past is concerned, Martinez is not such a pacifist after all.

Stone--Court martialed the U.S. military men who fired on attacking Japanese planes. As a move to mollify the Japanese, he would have considered ceding Hawaii to Hirohito as a personal possession.

Q--Coming to the present day, what do you think of Saddam Hussein?

Martinez--I do not like him, personally. But I'm convinced, as Bob Woodward now apparently is, that the Iraq war was a mistake.

Stone--He tried his best. I agree with that judge who said he was not a dictator.

Q--What would you do now in Afghanistan?

Martinez--Maybe, withdraw.

Stone--Ask the Taliban to be nicer to its women in the future.

Q--If you had been Prime Minister Olmert when Arab guerrillas kidnapped Israeli soldiers, what would you have done?

Martinez--Sent the kidnapped soldiers food packages, but I wouldn't have gone to war over it.

Stone--Offered to withdraw from all cities that were subsequently rocketed. The Israelis are not the kind of foreign cutthroats I like.

Q--Are there any present circumstances in which you guys would fight?

Martinez--Presently, only if George W. Bush personally attacked me.

Stone--Only if my next movie were to get critical reviews. That's the only circumstance in which violence is required. Otherwise, I'm so ashamed of the United States for standing up on its own two feet.

And my own compliments to Neville Chamberlain for going to see Hitler three times and then giving him most of Czechoslovakia. And finally, for claiming he had brought the British people "peace in our time."


Sunday, October 01, 2006

Tribune Co. Foolishly Goes To Merrill Lynch On What To Do

"My father always told me that all businessmen were sons of bitches"--John F. Kennedy

Dennis FitzSimons, the unusually inept CEO of the failing Tribune Co., now says he has retained the Wall St. firm of Merrill Lynch for advice on what to do to maximize Tribune's business opportunities, specifically to advise whether it should sell some or all of its newspapers.

But Merrill Lynch is the same firm that nearly advised Orange County into bankruptcy, and Wall Street seldom has the public interest in mind when it renders its advice. Short-term money, not long-term sagacity, are the watchwords of Wall St.

FitzSimons' latest lousy decision, in short, is another way of trying to hold on to properties Tribune has had neither the judgment nor foresight to manage properly. FitzSimons, who has continued to pay himself ever larger salaries, while managing his newspapers toward oblivion, continues to seek to keep his fatal grasp regardless of the circumstances.

BusinessWeek said last week that it believed Tribune Co. would not sell the L.A. Times and that the Times and the Chicago Tribune are doomed to live together in an unhappy marriage.

But L.A. Times media columnist Tim Rutten had a better idea when he wrote Saturday that there is an obligation to Times readers to maintain a viable paper in Los Angeles.

"A 'strategic alternative' that does not unlock The Times' value to readers is a strategy for continued decline and ultimate failure," Rutten wrote.

Rutten also lauded Times editor Dean Baquet and publisher Jeffrey Johnson for refusing to knuckle under to FitzSimons' plans for further staff layoffs and other diminishment of the quality of the newspaper. This, he suggested, would further spin the paper, which has lost a quarter million subscribers since Tribune Co. bought the paper six years ago, into catastrophe.

Apparently, one argument against Tribune selling the Times is that it would incur a large tax debt for doing so. But FitzSimons has already accumulated $2.4 billion of additional debt with his crazy stock buyback plan, and a continuation of his policies could, as Rutten suggests, ultimately mean the destruction of the Times altogether. Then he and his fellow-numb skulls on the Tribune Board of Directors, would be left with nothing.

Under these circumstances, a sale is necessary, and FitzSimons probably has enough dishonest lawyers in his employ to advise him how to escape the taxes.