Thursday, November 30, 2006

Baker Commission Sends A Signal Of Weakness To Iran And Syria

Events in Lebanon seem to be about to send clear messages to the United States: Appeasement won't work to rein in Iran and Syria, number one, and the U.S. can't safely retreat in Iraq or the Middle East in general.

The Iranian and Syrian stooge, the Hezbollah, terrorist organization, now says it will begin open-ended demonstrations to bring down the pro-Western Lebanese government at 3 p.m. tomorrow, Friday, Dec. 1.

This operation, if successful, would implant Iranian power on the shores of the Mediterranean and very well could cause a spread of the Sunni-Shiite war that has begun in Iraq all over the Middle East. It would be an event of the most profound and disturbing significance.

And what has cleared the way for such a disaster to take place? More than anything, at the present moment, it is the Baker Commission, and also, I believe, President Bush's ill-fated trip to Jordan to see the Shiite-sympathizing premier of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki.

The commission has been sending signals it believes America ought to ease its way out of Iraq. And in going to Jordan, where he was briefly snubbed by Maliki, Mr. Bush conveyed the impression he might eventually be willing to go along, despite statements he has made to the contrary.

The Baker Commission has also indicated it believes the U.S. ought to open diplomatic talks with Iran and Syria.

Iran has a Nazi as its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Syria has a thug, Bashar Assad. Both governments fit the definition of militant fascists, and both have undoubtedly taken the Baker commission, and the results of the American Mid Term elections, as signs the U.S. has lost spirit and is ready to throw in the towel in Iraq and elsewhere in the region.

I believe this is a mistake, that when push comes to shove, the U.S. will not withdraw from Iraq, despite all the discouraging developments there. But for the time being, it looks to Iran and Syria that way, and it is under those circumstances in the aftermath of last summer's Israel-Hezbollah war that the two dictatorships have apparently decided to try and seize Lebanon.

We will see in the days ahead what transpires. But the outlook is dark. Already, assassinations probably sponsored by Syria, have disrupted the security of Lebanon. Now, it seems that Hezbollah will take over the state as a proxy for Iran and Syria. Already, Israel has warned that such a takeover would jeopardize the current United Nations forces in southern Lebanon, which, to some extent, have kept Hezbollah away from the Israeli border.

The Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, indicated today he and his government would be prepared to fight to maintain democracy in Lebanon, but, compared to Hezbollah and its Iranian and Syrian backers, the present government has inadequate military power to defend itself effectively.

The great majority of the American people seem to think presently there is, indeed, a way out of the Middle East that would preserve our power as a nation, and our position in that vital region.

I just don't believe there is, and fear the consequences of a withdrawal. The crunch is coming, and it may well be followed by another change of opinion in this country.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

New York Times Vastly Outshines LAT This Morning In War News

Under the klutz-headed direction of David Hiller and James O'Shea, we have to expect that, compared to the New York Times, the L.A. Times will simply not display sound news judgement. These guys are not up to it. If they were, they wouldn't be working for the Tribune Co. in its present form.

But today the disparity between the New York Times and L.A. Times is extreme. On a day that President Bush was scheduled to meet in Amman, Jordan, with the Iraqi premier, Noury al-Maliki, the New York Times has three stories on Page 1 that unfortunately the L.A. Times doesn't touch on Page 1, or, in two cases, at all. (Maliki, in an apparent snub of Bush, later did not show up for the meeting today. One, however, is still scheduled for tomorrow.

One NYT story ignored in the L.A. Times is the lead piece by Michael Gordon, reporting the leak of a classified memo by White House National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley expressing serious doubts whether Maliki has the capacity to control sectarian violence in Iraq. The second is a grim analysis of falling U.S. clout in Iraq by the paper's Iraq correspondents, John Burns and Kirk Semple. The third is the report by Mark Mazzetti and Kate Zernike that House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi has decided not to take the former impeached judge, Alcee Hastings, as head of the House Intelligence Committee. The last did run in the Times way back in Section A, Page 28 to be exact.

It used to be when Shelby Coffey was editor of the Times that major New York Times stories were at least briefed in that morning's L.A. Times, although seldom were there two separate stories receiving such attention.

But today, the L.A. Times has two far less important stories related to Iraq, one relating to Pentagon spending plans and another saying that Maliki wants more control over his military.

The emphasis in the L.A. Times is, once again, on what the Iraqis want, when the concern should be over what the U.S. wants and needs to go on with the war effort.

The L.A. Times meanwhile has had some discussion in recent days on the choice facing Pelosi on the intelligence committee post. All the more necessary, then, that when she makes her decision about Hastings that it be reported prominently.

The New York Times also plays more prominently than the L.A. Times this morning the Pope's trip to Turkey, with a front page headline on his change of position from negative to positive on Turkey joining the European Union. In the L.A. Times, that story is played inside.

The Washington Post this morning also is focused in a Page 1 story on the U.S. view -- not the Iraqi view -- of the war situation.

Under Hiller and O'Shea there has been some determination to move more local stories onto page one, and the LAT story this morning on whether a black fireman ought to be paid a $2.7 million settlement for some hazing is probably worth the space. But the Times had plenty of room for other stories on Page 1, such as the Turkish statements by the Pope. and a better focus on Iraq.

To return to a subject mentioned above, the editors of the L.A. Times seem to be under the misprision that what the Iraqis want is important.

I confess to having a different view. The Iraqis have proved themselves so incapable over the centuries in managing their own affairs that what they want need mean nothing to us. If we are going to prevail in Iraq, we have to lower the boom over this misguided people and force them to accept our will for them, otherwise we are bound to fail there.

This is not a time for gracious understanding for Maliki's problems, such as his perceived need to kowtow to the blood-drenched Mahdi leader, Moktada al-Sadr. No, we should send the B-52s over Sadr City and crush the Mahdi with devastating air strikes. If Maliki doesn't like that, we should bomb him too.

What counts in Iraq at present is that the contending Iraqi factions be subdued with brute force. When they are forced to knuckle under, it will be time enough to win their hearts and minds. In World War II, the German and Japanese people came around when they were bombed mercilessly.

The New York Times, while perhaps not sharing that view, at least has its attention focused this morning on the right subject, what we want, not what the Iraqis want.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Since Judith Miller Case, Judicial Assault On Press Has Only Intensified

The New York Times on Monday had a column by David Carr on the front page of its Business section which discussed the plethora of subpoena demands on the press since the Judith Miller case, showing the real menace that a corrupt judiciary poses to a free press.

Once again, just as in the Dennis FitzSimons attempt to denigrate the Los Angeles Times, it is a Chicagoan, a foul Chicagoan, who is at the head of the pack. In this case, it is Patrick Fitzgerald, the Chicagoan who has been the special prosecutor in the "tempest in the teapot" persecution of leaks in the Valerie Plame case.

The original leaker has now been identified in that case as a State Department official, Richard Armitrage, and not Lewis Libby, an aide to Vice President Cheney. Yet Fitzgerald, who has wasted millions of taxpayer money in his investigation, continues to go after Libby. Also, as in other press subpoena cases, it was Miller who actually spent more time in jail refusing to reveal her sources, than any of the alleged leakers.

Carr's column in the New York Times Monday leads with the pressure on the Hearst Corp. over who leaked information about steroid use in organized baseball, what is known as the Balco case. In this case, the longest jail term thus far has been four months, but U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White wants to put two San Francisco Chronicle reporters in jail for 18 months for refusing to divulge their sources.

Whatever happened to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which declares no law shall be used to stifle freedom of the press?

The law is often bad news. I can never forget the professor in my Dartmouth days who warned us students, "Don't forget, gentlemen. Everything the Nazis did was strictly legal, according to German law."

Eve Burton, general counsel of the Hearst Corp., told Carr that since the government put Judy Miller in jail, she (Burton) has had to try to fend off 80 separate subpoenas of press personnel, as prosecutors and judges try to use the press as an investigative arm of the government.

Of the two Chronicle reporters now threatened with jail, Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, Burton declared, "The government is apparently willing to spend three years and millions of dollars putting two reporters in jail. They won't get the information they want. These guys made a promise and they are going to keep it."

Yet the persecution goes on, and the fact is that the unwillingness of New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., to stand up to the government in the Miller case has only encouraged the scoundrels in the legal profession to push ahead with their aggression against American freedoms.

As I've stated before, my four months at Harvard Law School many years ago convinced me the legal profession is mostly corrupt. Most people wouldn't go into the legal profession unless they intended to be corrupt. As soon as I saw, for instance, that David Hiller, the new publisher of the L.A. Times, was a Harvard Law School graduate, I knew there was every likelihood he would be bad news. It didn't take Hiller very long before he fired the courageous editor, Dean Baquet.

What can be done about the judicial system? One thing that the papers should do is to go after the judiciary, until they desist with their attacks on the press. That means opposing judges for reelection, and undertaking more stories like the L.A. Times ran examining corruption in the judicial branch in Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, the number of lawyers might be reduced by adopting a suggestion I made several years ago to require that all those entering law school be required to spend five years in the penitentiary first. That would weed out all but the most devoted miscreants.


Monday, November 27, 2006

In Timely Article, LAT's Matt Welch Questions McCain Candidacy Means

The press is often so enthused about Sen. John McCain's personality and general candor that it gives McCain almost a free ride toward his apparently impending presidential candidacy in 2008. By that, I mean it is not critical enough.

But Matt Welch, in Sunday's Current section of the L.A. Times breaks with that pattern in a lead article headlined, "Do we need another T.R?"

The Welch article is wholesome, I believe, because it raises questions which, soon or later, are bound to be raised about any McCain candidacy.

Boiled down, those questions are, is he too hawkish and too gung-ho in general about an intrusive government in American and world affairs to be accepted by the electorate? Is it possible that former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani may actually turn out to be more acceptable? (That possibility certainly arises this morning in a poll that shows Giuliani commanding the most admiration of any presidential candidate now mentioned. McCain and Sen. Barack Obama are second and third, and Sen. Hillary Clinton is well down in the pack).

Now, as readers of this blog will realize, I share many of McCain's views. But I'm also a political realist who predicted, quite precisely, the Democratic victories in the Mid Term elections. I may agree with McCain, but I also have to recognize that many Americans, at present a majority if the election returns are to be believed, do not.

Just after the election, McCain went on NBC's Meet the Press program and again restated his belief that what we need in Iraq are more, not fewer, U.S. troops. But Tim Russert, the moderator of the program, also thought he caught another McCain view as well. He said after the program that he felt McCain was saying that if we weren't going to send more troops, then we ought to get out.

The thing is, that if McCain were president, we probably would be sending more troops, and a political firestorm could well result. Even President Bush, devoted as he is to the war effort, has not adopted such a position.

I'm not saying McCain is incapable of change, but to shift from sending more troops to withdrawal would be a mighty big change, and in making such a change, McCain might not seem terribly sincere, when, always before, sincerity has been his long suit.

Welch by no means presumes there will be such a change. He thinks McCain's hawkish instincts will come to the fore in a McCain presidency. McCain, he writes, "wants to restore your faith in the U.S. government by any means necessary, even if that requires thousands of more military deaths, national service for civilians and federal micromanaging of innumerable private transactions."

Welch doesn't dwell a great deal on the matter, but his article also mentions that McCain's father suffered from alcoholism, and his second wife became addicted to pain pills. Both would be bound to come up in any presidential campaign, although perhaps not decisively. After all, President Bush was once an alcoholic, but now never drinks, and the electorate has forgiven him his early transgressions.

Still, altogether, the Welch article presages what many others may be writing later if McCain does emerge as the Republican candidate in 2008.

We have to question whether the country will indeed slip back to the right. Much depends, of course, on what happens in the Middle East, and how the Democrats actually fare as the majority party in Congress.

But, for a section of the newspaper which all too frequently has peddled meaningless blather of the kind favored by "humorist" Joel Stein, Welch's article Sunday was a welcome departure in its commitment to taking on a serious subject in a definite way. I hope we see a lot more of him in this section in the future.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Jim Rainey's Long Story About Tribune Co.-L.A. Times Rifts Fell Short

At a pre-game party for the USC-Notre Dame game at the Coliseum Saturday evening, I ran into Dominick Rubalcava, a former Coliseum Commissioner and member of the downtown Establishment. He told me of a disappointing conversation he had had with the new Chicago import as Times publisher, David Hiller.

Rubalcava said that when he told Hiller he does not like the new positioning of the L.A. Times editorial pages at the back of Section A, rather than the California section, Hiller had told him he was unaware such a change had been made.

Here's a man who has not only sold his soul to Chicagoans who are determined to reduce the scope of the L.A. Times as a newspaper, he isn't even aware of recent fundamental changes made in the paper's format, before he arrived.

After the game, when I got home, I continued reading the last of back issues unread during my London trip earlier this month, and in so doing, I finally read Jim Rainey's long piece in the Business section Nov. 10 about the rifts between Tribune Co., and two editors and publishers who were finally dismissed or encouraged to leave by Tribune. Its reads like a roll of honor -- John Carroll, John Puerner, Jeffrey Johnson and Dean Baquet.

Rainey has won some kudos for this piece, and others. But to me, they fall short in portraying just how grim the Times' situation is under the control of Tribune Co.

Rainey, for one thing, can never quite bring himself to writing about the full scope of Times circulation losses under Tribune, which now amount to 450,000. He refers to Times circulation before Tribune as exceeding 1 million, when, in fact, it was very close to 1.2 million. Thus the circulation losses are much greater than Rainey ever writes about.

In his Nov. 10 piece, Rainey has a paragraph that reads, "Promotional spending to advance The Times as a brand also withered from $12.4 million the year Tribune took over to $89,000 in 2004. The paper will spend about $4 million this year on brand promotion."

There is no elaboration in this article as to what these figures mean. What they mean is that virtually nothing was spent during periods of the Tribune ownership on building or retaining circulation. A good portion of the Times' circulation losses derive, in fact, from a planned decline in circulation initiated by Tribune Co. executives. Rainey does not go into this.

Also, while the media writer does report that during a visit to Los Angeles by Tribune Co. CEO Dennis FitzSimons and Tribune Publishing President Scott Smith last June, the two were asked if the perception that Tribune hated the Times was valid. "FitzSimons said such a feeling certainly was wrong," Rainey writes. "He said he and others running the company were well aware that their success was largely tied to the Los Angeles paper, which accounts for a fifth of Tribune's profit."

Again, elaboration is lacking here. FitzSimons can say what he wants, but his record belies such assurances. There is every indication he and Smith have nothing but disdain for the Times and its fortunes. The only public suggestions they ever make for the paper involve layoffs and other cutbacks.

Rainey does report that Smith replacing Jack Fuller as President of Tribune Publishing at the start of 2005 marked a downward turning point in the relationship between Tribune Co. and the Times. He quotes a Tribune executive as describing Smith as "the smartest guy in the room."

This, folks, is not a compliment. And in the next paragraph Times managing editor Leo Wolinsky is said to have "told colleagues about an early meeting with Smith. He said Times editors described their desire to hire the best journalists possible, but Smith said that might not be necessary." Rainey reports, "Smith denied that he ever made such a statement."

Smith's denials are not credible. There have been ample indications that Smith simply does not care about the quality of the L.A. Times and that neither he nor FitzSimons, nor their handmaidens, Hiller and newly-designated editor James O'Shea, have the paper's interests at heart.

There were also suggestions in Rainey's article of an impending cutback in Times foreign and national coverage. These too were, rather uncertainly, denied.

But what was fundamentally wrong with Rainey's article of Nov. 10 is that it leaned toward giving Tribune Co. executives credit for credibility when they deserve no such credit.

Right now, talks are going on behind the scenes about the future of the L.A. Times and what part of Tribune Co. will be sold out of its present incompetent hands, to new, more promising ones. Since Times readers have a tremendous interest in such a change of hands, it is highly important they get the best, most comprehensive information available about what is happening.

They did not get it in the Rainey article of Nov. 10, and it is clear that if it is to come, it must come in outside publications, such as the Wall Street Journal, Columbia Journalism Review and the New York Times, which have no small interest in this saga.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

Foreign News These Days Commands Attention, Both In Papers And On The Web

In Iraq, the Middle East and even London, where a former Soviet spy has died from radioactive poisoning, the news that counts these days is all foreign, and even with the recent change at the L.A. Times, that can't be ignored.

In both the L.A. and New York Times this morning, the lead stories are Iraq and the poisoning of Alexander V. Litvenenko, and this is true also on the newspapers' web sites. It is heartening to see the L.A. Times web site in particular, which has often been well behind the New York Times in key articles, but this morning successfully matches the NYT in its treatment both of the sectarian warfare in Iraq and the Litvenenko murder.

From Iraq, Solomon Moore, who has become a top war correspondent, depicts the real unraveling proceeding in Iraq, where the Shiite leader, Moktada al-Sadr, is now threatening to destroy the Maliki "government," if that is the word for it, if Premier Nouri al-Maliki goes ahead next week with a planned meeting with President Bush in Amman, Jordan. It is hard to fool Moore about anything. His comprehensive article this morning, both in the paper and on the web site, brings to Times readers essential information about the ever-worsening situation.

From London, L.A. Times writers Janet Stobart and Sebastian Rotella report that traces of radioactivity have been found in three London locations, following the death of Litvenenko from what was apparently a lethal dose of the rare radioactive element, Polonium 210, something that perhaps only a government laboratory (Russian?) could have produced. The L.A. Times also does a public service this morning in printing verbatim Litvenenko's death bed statement accusing Soviet President Vladimir Putin of responsibility in the macabre and ominous affair.

Both big newspapers also have comprehensive sidebars reporting on what Polonium 210, first discovered by the nobel prizewinner, Madame Curie, is and how dangerous it is.

These are very serious times. Even what is not widely printed is ominous. For instance, today, although neither the LAT nor NYT prints it, comes word in wire service articles on the Internet that the Thai government has been forced by Muslim violence to shut down the public school system in three southern provinces, where there have been a large number of continuing murderous attacks. Fundamentalist Muslim violence threatens the whole world, and both American and British forces are combatting it as best they can.

Also today, Vice President Cheney is reported to be in Saudi Arabia to meet with King Abdullah on the issues in both Iraq and Lebanon, where Iran, Syria and Hezbollah are working to destroy a pro-Western government. In Lebanon, L.A. Times writer Megan Stack reports on how Shiites have begun attacking Sunnis, just as they do in Iraq.

Both big newspapers also have lengthy stories today on the declining U.S. dollar, which has reached the lowest level against the Euro in 20 months.

This preoccupation with foreign news must continue, because it affects all of our futures. Thank goodness, the L.A. Times still has an effective network of foreign correspondents. Californians cannot be kept in the dark about what is happening in this critical region, nor would any reasonably intelligent reader want to be.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Chicago Cub Transaction Shows Tribune Co. 'Axis of Stupidity' At Work

Dennis FitzSimons, the Tribune Co. CEO, and his fellow executives continue to drive the company into the ground. As I've noted before, they are "an axis of stupidity."

The latest evidence of this comes from the Tribune-owned Chicago Cubs signing a $136 million multi-year contract for a mediocre and cantankerous ball player, outfielder Alfonso Soriano. This peripatetic character has not only played for several clubs, but he has driven the management of each one of them to distraction.

(The New York Times on Sunday, Nov. 26, analysed Soriano's career in a comprehensive article, and found it wanting. Soriano has a low on-base percentage, his strong total of stolen bases is balanced out by the number of times he was caught stealing, he is not a particularly strong defensive player and he is 31, meaning that by the time this contract is finished, he will be 39, old for a ballplayer. In short, the conclusion has to be, he is not worth $136 million at this point).

There can be only two possibilities involving the Cubs as a result of the dreadful FitzSimons' decision to go ahead with the Soriano deal.

One, he does not intend to sell the Cubs, which means he has taken all the money he has taken away from Tribune newspapers, and put it to this frivolous purchase. He is using L.A. Times profits in that event to try to accomplish what probably cannot be accomplished: make the Cubs a World Series winner, which they have not been since 1908.

Second, if he intends to sell the Cubs, he is only driving the selling price way down by committing so much to a second rate ball player and making player decisions that a new owner may not want to make.

Either way, FitzSimons is a ditz.

This also is reminiscent of FitzSimons' giving his inept Los Angeles publisher, David Hiller, another member of the axis of stupidity, permission to fire Dean Baquet as editor of the Times.

This act also devalued the Times in any sale. Who would pay nearly as much for a newspaper with James O'Shea at its head as he would for a paper edited by Baquet?

Ever since he initiated the foolish stock buyback plan last June, driving the Tribune Co. further into debt, FitzSimons has been acting so stupidly that he has only compounded Tribune's problems. He said the buyback would elevate the stock price, but it has barely nudged it. Pity the poor Chandler family for its own stupidity for climbing into bed with such a bunch of economic fools.

Tribune has fallen into greater and greater executive incompetence. The company has become, as one publication observed over Thanksgiving, a turkey.

What's next? Will Hiller and O'Shea buy homes in Lakewood, out of their ignorance of the Los Angeles area?

What are they trying to do, these Tribune executives. Maybe follow Enron into a business debacle, leaving thousands of their employees in the lurch.

When I was in London earlier in the month, someone told me a joke with pertinence to FitzSimons.

What, she asked, was the difference between a misadventure and a catastrophe?

A misadventure, she said, was if FitzSimons fell into Lake Michigan. A catastrophe was if someone fished him out.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Major Demonstration Of Antipathy To Syria, Iran And Hezbollah In Lebanon

They came by the hundreds of thousands today to Martyr's Square in Beirut to mourn the assassinated cabinet minister, Pierre Gemayel, and express their angry determination for a Lebanon free of the malevolent influences of Syria, Iran and Hezbollah.

It was not only the Maronite Christians who came. They were joined by the Druse, by Sunni Muslims, and even visitors such as the French foreign minister to show they are committed not to give Lebanon over to the barbaric Islamic fundamentalists and aggressive outside countries.

At a time when there are many "experts" insisting that the U.S. and other Western countries negotiate with the thuggish Syrian president, Bashar Assad,and the fanatic Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, this was a powerful demonstration that in one of the countries they are trying to take over, there is great popular resistance to accommodating those responsible for repeated murders of popular leaders. There have been six assassinations, probably sponsored by Assad, of Lebanese political figures since the former premier, Rafik Hariri, was gunned down 21 months ago.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the running dog for Syria and Iran, is openly seeking the destruction of the regime of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, whose government is backed by the United States, France, Germany and other countries.

Even the often dovish New York Times editorializes today, "The United States and the international community must now rally to support Prime Minister Siniora -- with cash, security advisers, and anything that might help him and his government survive." But, in the lead story in the Los Angeles Times, the frequently wimpy reporter, Paul Richter, in this instance, as in so many others, is ready to throw in the towel, proclaiming that the whole situation is another instance of American impotence.

What is to be gained by talking with the Syrians and Iranians? Probably, for the moment, nothing. It is always conceivable that at some point the outflow of hundreds of thousands of refugees from beleaguered Iraq will sufficiently alarm Syria and Iran that they will become more reasonable. At present, however, they continue their efforts to destroy the moderate Lebanese government.

Also, a lengthy Time magazine report this week lists important arms deliveries by Syria and Iran to Somalia, where Islamic fundamentalists have taken over and now conspire to spread war all over the Horn of Africa, attacking such U.S. allies as Ethiopia and Kenya. Somalian troops have also gone to Syria to train.

It is reminiscent in a way of Churchill's warning, in his speech on the Munich Agreement of 1938 that led to the dismemberment of the Czechoslovak government and the absorption of the Czechs and Slovaks into Nazi Germany the following year.

On Oct. 5, 1938, Churchill stood in the House of Commons and declared, "There can never be friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi Power, that Power which spurns Christian ethics, which vaunts the spirit of aggression and conquest, which derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution, and uses, as we have seen, with pitiless brutality the threat of murderous force. That Power cannot ever be the trusted friend of the British democracy."

We see the same kind of aggression against Lebanon and in the Horn of Africa today, a continuation of a foul effort to turn small countries into bases of attack for extremists. It is time that we rally against them, not appease them.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

There Is No Mandate To Bring All American Troops Home From Iraq

Some of our liberal friends would like to convince everyone that the results in the Mid Term elections constituted a mandate to withdraw all American troops from Iraq. But I believe this is not the case.

Saul Halpert, the former excellent KNBC reporter, now retired, writes in the L.A. Times letters column this morning, "The president is standing by his refusal to accept anything less than victory, although he has never defined what will constitute winning in that war, which many experts agree has already been lost. Any future moves can only minimize further damage to Iraqis, U.S. standing in the world and U.S. casualties.

"This portends contentious weeks and months ahead in Washington unless Democrats (and many Republicans) carry out the mandate of American voters to bring this sad war to as speedy a conclusion as possible."

Halpert, however, has misread both the election returns, and polls taken at the time of the election that showed only 27% of the voters wanted a precipitate withdrawal from Iraq.

Many of the 232 Democrats elected to the House are moderates who oppose any cut-and-run policy, although many would like to bring some American troops home in phases. If there was a clear majority of the American people who wanted to bug out of the war, then it seems to me Ned Lamont would have been elected over Sen. Joe Lieberman in Connecticut, where, instead, a coalition of Republicans, independents and Democrats finally gave Lieberman a solid majority.

The war, as Halpert accurately notes, has not been going well, and many, although not all, experts are contending it has already been lost.

I disagree it has been lost. As long as 140,000 American troops are fighting in Iraq, the war is not irretrievable. It was announced last night that President Bush will meet Iraqi Premier Noury al-Maliki in Amman, Jordan, Nov. 29-30, to discuss the war. At this meeting, a new means of fighting it may emerge, and for the sake of the morale of U.S. and Iraqi government troops, it is essential it does.

Continuing does mean a time of contention in Washington, I agree with Halpert on that. But the price to the U.S. and the West of quitting in Iraq would be too great for us to bear. We see in Lebanon this morning, with the latest assassination, that the appetite of the terrorists for pushing us altogether out of the Middle East, with all the consequences for our oil supply, the future of Israel and peace in Europe, has not diminished. It is stronger than ever.

This is not Vietnam. We have a much greater strategic interest in this war than we did in Southeast Asia. We quit that war with impunity. I don't believe we can do that in this one. There is no way that a retreat of America from Iraq, not to mention Afghanistan, would not adversely affect our standing in the world and our future capacity to stand with our allies.

In the Mid Term elections, the American people registered their impatience, which is understandable. But it will not be until 2008, with election of a new President, that there will likely be a mandate.

Between now and then, also, we cannot expect to see our enemies do nothing. Future attacks may compel American persistence. A major attack in Britain or the United States would shift public opinion dramatically again.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Story Conference At The L.A. Times (A Satire)

Participants in the Story Conference:
David Hiller, temporary Publisher
James O'Shea, temporary Editor
Doug Frantz, Managing Editor
Leo Wolinsky, Managing Editor

O'Shea--So what do we have today?

Wolinsky--North Korea has sold several atomic bombs to Iran, and the Iranians say they will test one in the Persian Gulf. The U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia have declared emergencies. Also, in Darfur, there's been a huge new massacre of black Africans by Arab militias.

Hiller--Hmm, I killed off an African too.

Frantz (shocked)--I beg your pardon. Dean Baquet is an African-American.

Wolinsky--He's an all-American.

Hiller--He crossed me with his New Orleans speech and I responded like any red-blooded publisher would. Imagine, not wanting to maximize profits.

O-Shea--Now, David, calm down.

Hiller--When you address me, call me, Mr. Hiller!

O'Shea--In any case, what do we have in local news? I think we'll run the Iranian developments inside Section A somewhere.

Wolinsky(shocked)--Not run news of this kind on Page 1? Why, we have three of our foreign correspondents right on location.

Hiller--We don't want to showcase these correspondents too much. After all, after New Year's we might get rid of them.

Wolinsky--Well, we don't have that much locally today. In Pasadena, they have decided to rebuild City Hall for seismic reasons.

O'Shea--I thought Pasadena was in Texas.

Wolinsky--No, it's right near here. You've heard of the Rose Bowl, haven't you?


Wolinsky--Besides that, there's a new tempest at UCLA, where they've agreed to admit a few more minority applicants. There's a stop-light controversy in San Pedro. And the L.A. City Council will give a party for Mayor Villaraigosa.

O'Shea--Where's San Pedro?

(Suppressed laughter from others in the room).

Frantz--San Pedro is down at L.A. Harbor. Don't you think you ought to take me up on that offer of a tour of the Los Angeles area?

O'Shea--I can't do that, be editor of the Times and go to visit my wife in Chicago three days each week, at the same time.

Wolinsky--So, what do we want to play on Page 1?

O'Shea--What do you think, Mr. Hiller?

Hiller (satisfied)--That's more like it, Jimbo. My feeling is we ought to go with the local stories Leo's mentioned. We can compensate by having Andres Martinez do an editorial on the Iranian caper.

O'Shea--All I want to do is entertain the L.A. public.

Wolinsky--The few still reading the paper.

Hiller--Don't cross me. I'm almighty, Leo, and you may soon find that out too.

O'Shea--The meeting is adjourned. If the paper isn't sold by then, I'll see you tomorrow.

Hiller--By the way, one thing more. I don't want any mention of Harvard University in the paper as long as John Carroll continues to work there.

Frantz--I'm going out for a drink.

Wolinsky--Me too.


Monday, November 20, 2006

We Have To Make Up Our Minds What To Do In Iraq

The New York Times had a most compelling story on Page 1 Sunday about a U.S. Army military police captain stationed south of Baghdad who has decided that her priority at this point is simply to get her company home safely, without any further deaths.

Stephanie A. Bagley, 30, a West Point graduate, a third-generation officer and a beautiful, intelligent woman, is commander of the 21st Military Police Company, which was sent to Iraq last year from Fort Bragg, N.C., with the mission of training Iraqi police to stem the terrorist insurgency.

It has been a disillusioning experience. As the months have passed, Bagley has found that the police she is training are rife with militia and insurgent influences. On Oct. 2, when Sgt. Joseph Walter Perry, 23, a member of Bagley's company, was shot and killed by a sniper in a marketplace, the article says that Bagley was devastated. It was the first fatality in her company, and she is determined it will be the last before the company goes home in December. So, perhaps taking her career in her hands, Bagley decided to withhold her company from such experiences. She is no longer sending it out on dangerous assignments.

Unfortunately, Bagley's experience and disillusionment are by no means uncommon these days among U.S. military forces stationed in Iraq. Since the Mid Term election, in particular, a feeling of uncertainty seems to have settled in as to what the future course for the U.S. in the war will be. Troop morale understandably has suffered, and in the uncertainty, military initiative is at a minimum.

The Baker Commission is expected to report next month. on possible options. Robert Gates may be confirmed as Donald Rumsfeld's replacement as Secretary of Defense by the end of the year. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has been quoted in recent days as saying he no longer feels the war is winnable. But in the meantime, the U.S. war effort is in a state of limbo. Since no future policy has been decided, and the available options range widely from a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops to an increase in troop levels and a new effort to pursue the war, it is not surprising there are a number of Captain Bagleys, loyal to the Army but unwilling to take risks when no one can tell whether the war effort has been worthwhile.

Officials in Washington owe our 140,000 troops in Iraq and the thousands more being rotated in and out in the next couple of months a decision as soon as possible. It is unfair to them to keep them in such a state of uncertainty.

But it seems increasingly the case that no precipitate American withdrawal is in the cards, and that it is quite likely a new, perhaps revised effort will be made to prevail in the war.

The world is not what New York Times columnist Frank Rich, or the rest of the cut-and-run crowd, wish it is. The consequences of an American withdrawal might be immense and extremely unfavorable to American interests. And there is no majority in the new Congress to compel such a course.

In these circumstances, we have to get off the dime and decide what to do. Sectarian warfare in Iraq is only intensifying. The government of Premier Nouri al-Maliki is hopelessly inept at best and traitorous to the very interests it was created to implement at the worst. This regime, if we stay on, may have to be replaced. Negotiations must be pursued with neighboring states to see if they will cooperate, even to a minor extent, on a future course.

In the meantime, we have to be fair to our troops. They must know soon what the policy is, and what we expect them to do. Then Captain Bagley and the other officers in Iraq can rest a little easier. Right now, Bagley told New York Times writer Kirk Semple she is in "a no-sleep mode."


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Big Winners And Losers From 2006 Election Day

It is a peculiar thing about political reporting that the news media spends almost unlimited space on pre-election blather, who's ahead, who's behind, what will happen. But then, when the election is over, there's precious little space devoted to analysis of the results. Time magazine is a good example. It's post-election issue doesn't even point out new senators, and casts almost the whole election as having impact only on President Bush.

This blog will try to identify some of the big winners and losers, as far as I understand them.


--Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York scored a landslide victory, carrying 62 of 65 countries in New York, including many normally conservative upstate counties. Clinton was a good campaigner in her first race six years ago, but this time, she was really outstanding, developing a sense of humor and command on the stump that bodes well for a Presidential race, if she decides to make one.

--Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut proved the voters do like independence of mind and spirit when he turned the tables on a peace candidate, Ned Lamont, who had defeated him in the primary. Lieberman also emerged as a decisive vote in the Senate, since, if the Democrats were tempted not to allow him to keep his seniority, he could simply cross the aisle and make the Republicans a majority. I gave $200 to the Lieberman campaign and am proud to have done so.

--Gov. Bill Richardson won a landslide victory for reelection as governor of New Mexico, showing that his foreign policy exploits, such as his private visit to North Korea, do not keep him from effectively minding the store at home. Richardson would make an outstanding secretary of state in a Democratic administration after 2008.

--Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois. This former Clinton Administration aide ran the successful Democratic campaigns that led to winning control of the House of Representatives. His performance was so masterful, even President Bush decided he deserved personal congratulations and called him. Emanuel undoubtedly has a very bright future ahead of him.

--Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco. The daughter of a mayor of Baltimore, (and the mother of six), Pelosi, an Italian-American, has politics in her blood, is determined and is capable of learning from mistakes, such as she made soon after the election by unsuccessfully backing her friend, Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania for House Majority Leader.

--Senator-elect Jim Webb of Virginia. A former Secretary of the Navy, Webb's election followed extraordinary lapses of judgment by incumbent Sen. George Allen. Allen started out the race as a prospective candidate for President and ended it identified as a cheap bigot. The Democrat, Webb's victory dignifies Virginia, a state which has an illustrious political history.

--Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California. Schwarzenegger's election as governor in a Recall election could be viewed as a fluke, but his reelection was the result of hard work and a judicious reworking of earlier partisan positions. He is now an established political figure commanding respect across the country, and proves there is a place for moderate Republicanism.

--Eliot Spitzer of New York. Elected governor by a large margin, this Democrat has already had a distinguished career as a prosecutor and New York attorney general. Now, he will have a bigger platform, and his national role may only be enhanced.

--Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi. It's hard to make a comeback after having been forced to resign a leadership position in disgrace, but this Mississippi Republican, who won a fourth term, has now been elected by fellow-Republicans, to the number 2 leadership position in the new Senate minority. He will know better than to ever side with the late Sen. Strom Thurmond again.

--Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. The man who could become the first black President of the United States was not on the ballot, but he greatly fortified his political reputation with his campaigning and fundraising across the country. He has created the kind of inspirational persona which impelled the political careers of John and Robert Kennedy.


--White House aide Karl Rove. Rove pulled the wool over the electorate's eyes in 2004, but he could not do so again. Although he may have been responsible for some scurrilous campaign tactics that worked, such as the racist ad that doomed a good Democratic candidate for the Senate from Tennessee, most of Rove's tactics fell flat this year. He should have quit while he was ahead.

--President George Bush. He should have fired Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and sought new leadership for the war in Iraq well before the election. His failure to do so, or to adopt new, imaginative ways of fighting the war, cost his party Congress and, to say the least, diminished his reputation. He now increasingly seems a lame duck.

--Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. He was not on the ballot this year, but he made one of the biggest gaffes of the year when he denigrated U.S. troops in Iraq. I believe his presidential aspirations will come to be regarded as terminated by this episode.

--Phil Angelides. The California state treasurer proved a very poor candidate for governor of California. Angelides disgraced himself in the primary by his demagogic tactics against State Controller Steve Westly and could never redeem himself after. His political career is over. That California Democrats could not put up a stronger candidate does not speak well for the party leadership.

--Rep. Katherine Harris of Florida and Secretary of State Ken Blackwell of Ohio. They paid the price for earlier fostering of corrupt election practices in the 2000 and 2004 elections, both going down to one-sided defeats in races for the U.S. Senate and the Ohio governorship.

--L.A. Times publisher David Hiller. By firing the highly-respected editor, Dean Baquet, which was made known on election day, Hiller verified himself to be both very dumb and a low, venal character. He may never recover whatever reputation he had and, by using the cover of the election for his foul deed, emerged as the disgrace of the day.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Will James O'Shea Ruin L.A. Times' Page One?

That David Hiller and James O'Shea have no business running the L.A. Times, even for a brief period, is obvious. These unqualified men came here from an inferior city to replace distinguished leaders of the paper, and already the Times' Page one is showing their gross incompetence and failure to understand the Times and what it should offer its readers.

O'Shea in the last two days must be held responsible for a severely compromised Page one. Many readers are complaining about meaningless or second-rate local stories being placed there, at a time of consequential world and national events.

The careful and restrained Kevin Roderick dealt with this issue clearly yesterday in LA Observed. He reported, "A bunch of Times readers have emailed to say how jarring they found this morning's front page. Not because the news stories above the fold were all local, but that the local news wasn't all that major..."

Then, today, the Times headline story is about a $2 billion downtown Los Angeles renovation project being in the red, even before it gets started. This would, under the enlightened Dean Baquet, have been relegated to the California Section.

As stated earlier, there is every hope that Hiller and O'Shea won't be in Los Angeles very long. Any reasonable buyer of the paper will give them their walking papers, and the only resident of this area who will be sorry will be Ken Starr, Hiller's friend when both were at the Reagan Justice Department.

It is often the mark of the most unqualified pretenders to high position that they act in remarkably silly ways. Some actually think they can contribute something to the enterprise. But I can't believe this could possibly be true of Hiller and O'Shea, who must realize how unprepared they are to cope with Los Angeles.

If this goes on much longer, even more of the bottom will drop out of Los Angeles Times circulation. The paper is being destroyed before our eyes.

Again, it must be emphasized, in every way, these characters should be admonished they are not wanted in Los Angeles. They must slink back to Chicago as soon as possible, where they can replace the cows and hogs in the stockyards adding to whatever merits that place may have.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Nancy Pelosi Off To A Bad Start After Murtha Endorsement Fails

The House Speaker-designate, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, is off to a bad start with the refusal of the majority of House Democrats to go along with her endorsement of Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania as House Majority Leader.

Instead, the newly-elected House Democrats (including a few in still-disputed races) voted today 149-86 to go with Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, who has had a fractious relationship with Pelosi in the past.

Pelosi's choice to make a public issue out of this was a mistake. It shows that Pelosi may not be as skilled a politician as all the rave notices of recent days have indicated.

It is almost incredible, in light of what she has said since the Mid Term election about ethics, that Pelosi would back Murtha, who showed up visibly in network coverage in recent days turning down only conditionally a bribe years ago, and also again, in recent days, voiced his opposition to proposed new House ethics rules.

Pelosi said she backed Murtha because she admired his position for troop withdrawals from the Iraqi war. Iraq was not overtly an issue in the contest for House Majority Leader, but at the same time it seems obvious that there is no majority at present, even among Democrats, for a precipitate withdrawal from Iraq.

That being the case, Pelosi faces another danger in her apparent plan to replace Rep. Jane Harman of California with Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida as head of the House Intelligence Committee. Here, too, there are ethics problems since Hastings was actually impeached by Congress from a federal judgeship he had held in Florida. On Iraq, Harman is tougher for pursuing the war than Hastings.

Just as with Hoyer, Pelosi has had an unfriendly relationship with Harman.

But as Speaker she is going to have to demonstrate an ability to get along with people, if she is to be effective.

As a political writer for the Times, I had only scant contact with Pelosi, but what little I had did not give me the impression Pelosi was all that skillful a politician. From what I could observe, she sometimes does not pay much attention to detail. This can be devastating for a House Speaker.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Moderate Muslims Gain With Vote To Change Rape Law In Pakistan

It's important, as I've written before, to give attention to signs that moderate Muslims, reform in Islam, is gaining, whenever this occurs. Not all the news about Islam, it goes without saying, should be about the fanatics whose violence afflicts the world.

So I hasten this morning to pay tribute to the lower house of Pakistan's parliament for voting to put the crime of rape in that country under the civil code rather than under Islamic religious law.

Under the religious law, enforcement of the laws against rape has been grossly discriminatory against women who are victims of this foul crime.

Islamic laws against rape were introduced in Pakistan in 1979 by the military ruler of that day, Zia-ul-Haq, whose rule was an abomination. Under these laws, it is required that a rape victim be liable to prosecution for adultery unless she can produce four male witnesses to the assault.

This, of course, means that rape is seldom prosecuted, while some women are indeed accused of adultery. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has published the story of the woman sentenced to be raped by others because she was a victim of rape without the required number of witnesses willing to testify.

The new law, as adopted by the lower house, would simply adopt normal evidence as the criteria with which rape cases would be judged. If adopted by the upper house of parliament and signed by President Pervez Musharaff, who has indicated he is favorable, it will be a major step of reform, encouraging to Muslim progressives in many countries.

Predictably, the fundamentalists in parliament opposed any action. In fact, Islamist lawmakers walked out of parliament, boycotting the vote, after their corrupt leader, Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, made the ridiculous assertion that taking rape from the religious to the civil law would encourage free sex.

"This is an attempt to create a free sex zone in Pakistan," said this jackass. "The changes are not in line with Islamic teaching."

If this is true, and it is by no means clear that it is, then Islam must be changed.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz hailed the vote in the lower house, saying, "It is a historic bill because it will give rights to women and help end excesses against them."

All our compliments should go to these parliamentarians, as they struggle to take Pakistan and the Islamic world in general out of the dark ages.

Not all the news as to Islam and women is good this morning. The New York Times has a lengthy article on attacks on women in the streets of Cairo, with the Egyptian police and other authorities not doing anything to stop them, but harassing people who say they occurred.


Henry Weinstein, the L.A. Times writer who won the $25,000 John Chancellor Award For Excellence In Journalism Award last week, has a lot to say about the L.A. Times' current troubles in an interview posted today by the Columbia Journalism Review Daily. Weinstein appropriately comments on why the firing of editor Dean Baquet by the squalid Tribune Co. was such a bad move and talks about perspectives at the Times.

The situation is not hopeless when really terrific journalists like Weinstein are still working for the paper. Needless to say, the Times needs its Weinsteins (and does not need its Chicago appointees as publisher and editor, David Hiller and James O'Shea). Weinstein is being nice when he says O'Shea has a good record as a journalist. But he has no business in Los Angeles, and, if he were really a good journalist, he would not have accepted the assignment by the Tribune. His editorship is like working for the Nixon Administration in the Justice Department after the Saturday Night Massacre.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Wall Street Should Stop Interfering With The Newspaper Business

While I was away in London, the Morgan Stanley Investment Management firm publicly threatened the arrangement under which the New York Times became and remains the nation's most eminent newspaper.

It turns out that over a year, these slimy representatives of corporate America have been trying to get the NYT to abandon Sulzberger family control and give in to the kind of craven profit seeking interests that have ruined the Tribune Co. and all the Times-Mirror newspapers Tribune purchased six years ago.

Wall Street is trying with all the resources it has, and they are considerable, to subvert American freedoms by making newspapers just another business rather than a sacred public trust. They don't like the honesty of newspapers, because honest reports have put many unscrupulous businessmen in jail.

By ending the arrangement under which the Sulzberger family controls the voting stock in the New York Times Co. and making all the stockholders responsible for key policy decisions, Morgan Stanley could then institute the kind of cost cutting Tribune is trying to force on the L.A. Times.

There may be a lawsuit over this, but every appearance is that the Sulzberger family can legally keep control in the family. Of course, that won't last forever. We see in the Chandler family here in Los Angeles what can happen to even the best of families, as new generations become greedy, lose their moral character and demand greater and greater stock dividends. In Los Angeles' case, the family finally sold the paper.

As the New York Times begins to fight for its life against these business interlopers. there are new indications in the L.A. Times this morning that a sale of the L.A. Times and possibly the whole Tribune Co. is only a matter of time and hard negotiating. The present owners, doomed by their own ineptitude, have worked themselves in a position where they either have to sell or see the stock price collapse. so much for the stock buyback strategy of Dennis FitzSimons, the failed CEO of Tribune.

It seems clear on reading the story by Jim Rainey this morning on the first appearance in the L.A. Times City Room of the new editor, James O'Shea, replacing the wickedly-dispatched Dean Baquet, that he expects to be a short timer. From what O'Shea told the staff, he has left his wife in Chicago and he doesn't expect to be here long.

"You all know...sometime after the first of the year we are probably going to have new owners," he said. "And that could be a lot better for everybody here. But don't kid yourself, it could also be worse, a lot worse."

O-Shea is trying to scare people. The fact is that even Gannett or Rupert Murdoch would have more interest in keeping the Times a great newspaper than the Tribune Co. has.

But, of course, we can hope for far better than Gannett or Murdoch. The best solution for the Times would be new local owners, fresh blood. As I've said in recent days, I tend to favor David Geffen, thinking he would put his all into the paper.

One thing I'm sure we won't have is the Chandler family. After all, when reactionary elements of that family nudged Otis Chandler out of the way in the 1980s, they showed absolutely no interest in running the newspaper themselves or doing anything but collecting more dividends.

The Chandler family is in the past. To the extent, Chandler family representatives on the Tribune board are encouraging, or forcing, a sale of Tribune, all power to them. But they will not be back owning the Times. Harry Chandler is not going to be publisher, no matter how good he sounds in the Current section.

However, it is highly possible that Baquet will be brought back by new owners as editor. With a sale pending, if I were Baquet I wouldn't be too quick to accept other job offers.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Some Thoughts On Latest Developments Regarding The L.A. Times

There are so many developments these days regarding the possible sale and breakup of the dysfunctional Tribune Co., and revival of the L.A. Times, hopefully under local control. And, of course, I have some reactions.

I continue to hope that local entrepreneurs, preferably David Geffen, will be able to buy the Times. I kind of shudder when I read this morning that Gannett may make a bid to buy the whole company, that retired insurance magnate Maurice Greenberg may put in a bid or even that Rupert Murdoch may try to buy the Times.

Such outcomes would be very disappointing. After this long struggle that has been taking place, we have to hope speculators, poor-quality newspaper publishers or conservative extremists such as Murdoch do not end up with the Times.

As for Harry Chandler's suggestion in Sunday's Current section that the paper become community-owned, this may be well meaning but is not really feasible. If the Chandler family wishes to prove its good will and regard for the newspaper it once owned, its representatives on the Tribune board should push for a sale to Geffen or some other Los Angeles bidder.

I was a little taken aback when the ousted editor, Dean Baquet, sounded so understanding and collegial in an interview with Editor and Publisher that he even gave reason to understand the new editor sent here by the Tribune had his backing.

This is nonsense. When David Hiller, the Tribune's third publisher in Los Angeles, told Baquet he was through, the proper reaction by Baquet would have been to punch him in the nose.

There should be no welcoming any of the Tribune nominees to be its gauleiters in Los Angeles. If the paper should be sold, God willing, they will not last a week in their jobs.

Meanwhile, two Times columnists, Tim Rutten and Steve Lopez, continue to exhibit outstanding courage and understanding in writing as they do about the Times and its troubles, Lopez in a blog just out, Rutten in last Saturday's column.

When this nightmare is over, prizes will be handed out to those who resisted the Tribune management, and, at that time, Rutten and Lopez, and also, I suspect, Jim Rainey will get the plaudits they deserve.

Lopez, incidentally, refers unfavorably to a meaningless Times ad in the blog. I just wonder whether the hapless design director, Joe Hutchinson, had something to do with this. Whatever Hutchinson puts his hand to has turned out abysmally.


United Airlines, Like American, Is Lousy

My trip to London on United Airlines Business Class, at a discount fare of $2,995 round trip was worth the money only if you wanted to sleep most of the way.

The only thing worth it on the trip was the seat, which reclined backward into a seat which made sleeping very comfortable, and was, of course, wider than a coach seat.

But the United check in in both Los Angeles and London was highly confused and disorganized, the food was mediocre, about what you would have gotten in coach a few years ago, and the stewardesses often surly.

United's "fruit and cheese" plate for a snack after eight hours without food, was the kind of thing you might have expected would be fed prisoners at a maximum-security facility.

When I asked a stewardess for a glass of water, she protested, "When you got on board, you told me you didn't want anything."

And when I asked for assistance in getting the seat back to an upright position, another stewardess cracked, "I won't break my back to help you."

It could well be that round after round of salary decreases have made the stewardesses very bitter and not at all desirous to give good service. In any cases, United has outsourced its service. The stewardesses aboard our flight were all British, and, judging from their Cockney accents, lower class British at that. Even the pilot for that matter had an English accent. A fellow-passenger remarked that, after all, the stewardesses had thankless jobs. But these jobs weren't so thankless when they were paid adequately.

I was also quite astonished, when I returned, to read a Jennifer Oldham article in the L.A. Times about how well Lydia Kennard was doing running Los Angeles International Airport.

In fact, the airport's crowdedness, slowness and overall dysfunction seems to have increased. With the United flight 935 on Sunday, it was the same as with American coming back from Boston on Oct. 18. We arrived early, but no gate was open, and by the time the airplane was at the gate, it was late. It wasn't as late on United, but still...A well run airport would avoid such hangups.

Before Oldham writes her next article on how well LAX is doing, I suggest she take a flight or two through the airport.

London's Heathrow Airport, by the way, does not have quite as stringent security checks as Los Angeles. In London, they never examined the soles of my feet, let my wallet and watch go through without comment, and gave me only a cursory pat-down. (I have a defibrillator now, so I'm always patted down). I thought this a little strange given the fact that just the day before the director of the British intelligence agency, MI-5, said there were 1,600 terrorists operating INSIDE Britain, but perhaps the British do practice ethnic profiling and only really give the Arabs a close screening.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

A Visit To Parliament Square And Westminster Abbey

--written from London

On a day when the director of the British intelligence agency MI-5, warned there are 1,600 terrorist suspects in Britain planning everything up to attacks on this country with weapons of mass destruction, I paid an inspirational visit to Parliament Square and Westminister Abbey.

In Westminister Abbey are buried many of the glorious figures, Kings, Queens, Prime Ministers, Poets, of British history. It is especially moving to see the tomb of Queen Elizabeth I and the memorial to Winston Churchill.

So many times in British history, this nation seems to have been on brink of the abyss, only to come back, often at the last moment, with a victory and new vistas of greatness. "England," it is said, "loses every battle but the last."

So, I reflected, I no more believe a pack of Muslim extremists are going to bring this country down, any more than they will bring America down.

Despite the threat, London has seemed this past 10 days to be a secure city, happy with itself, vibrant. The only thing lacking sometimes is British food, although the ethnic restairants make up for that.

My tour group sponsored by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival went on the London Eye the other night, the huge ferris wheel that affords such splendid views of the Houses of Parliament and other parts of central London. We loved the view, and this should be a feature of any trip to London.

The historic bastion of democracy, long may it live.

And today, Armistice Day, I'm wearing a flower, like millions of Britons, remembering the men and women who have died through the centuries preserving and extending freedom, combating tyrannies, throughout the world. No one should forget them.

When I returned to my hotel, on television for an hour, was a moving dedication of a memorial in Hyde Park to all the New Zealanders who gave their lives, in alliance with Britain in two world wars. Queen Elizabeth II, Prime Minister Blair, the prime minister of New Zealand and others spoke, there was Maori dancing and the symbolism seemed to be that the British Empire, in a real sense, still exists.

I don't want to be maudlin, but the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland commands admiration. Now only, if they can offer visitors ice tea, it will be perfect.


Friday, November 10, 2006

Geffen Is The Best Bet For The Times; Maybe Tribune Can Be Enjoined Prior To Sale

--written from London

David Geffen, because of his lofty ambitions for the L.A. Times, would, in my view be the best possible buyer for the newspaper.

But I do not presume, no should anyone, that the squalid Tribune Co., and its lackey, David Hiller, can be counted on to act in good faith, or even to make a sale if it would be in the best business interests of Tribune. If Hiller, for example, was really looking to enhance the value of the Times in a sale, he would not have fired Dean Baquet. No, this creep may be egomanically trying to actually continue as publisher, realizing he would not last a day under a new owner, Geffen or anyone else.

I wonder in these circumstances, whether some legal action could be taken to enjoin Tribune Co. from further destructive moves pending a sale. Might there be some judge in Los Angeles who would issue an injunction at this point to save the paper in the public interest?

In the meantime, the vise of reality may be closing in on Tribune, FitzSimons, Smith, Hiller and all that motley crew.

They are driving the Times into the ground and everyone knows it.

Of course, I've known honorable lawyers and have friends who are judges, but by and large I learned long ago that anyone who attended Harvard Law School, as Hiller did, must be presumed immoral until he or she proves otherwise.

By firing Baquet, even if it were on orders, Hiller proved himself unfit, and the only real hope now is that negotiations with Geffen or another buyer can proceed with all speed.

In the meantime, we have to take heart. Anyone fired now for resisting these Huns will probably be rehired later.

But perhaps something could be done in the courts to freeze the situation.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Democratic Margins In Congress Not Enough To Force Withdrawal From Iraq

--written from London

A careful reading of the election returns indicates that the new Democratic margin in Congress is not united enough or numerous enough to force President Bush to withdraw from Iraq.

Enough moderate Democrats were elected who believe in American power in the world to prevent the assembly of any cut-and-run majority. Just the reelection of Joe Lieberman in Connecticut is enough to deadlock the Senate on the war, allowing Vice President Cheney to control.

But even the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate do not really constitute a decisive force against the President.

That said, when the Baker Commission comes in with its report, changes in the way the war is fought in Iraq and Afghanistan may well ensue. It has become obvious that Bush's goal of bringing Western style democracy to these countries is not to be realized, and that "winning the hearts and minds" of the people in these countries is not really in the cards.

The war, in the long run, is likely to intensify, and it is altogether possible that major new terror attacks may occur in the United States and Europe.

The result then would be further changes in American public opinion. The results the other night may not be definitive.

As for the 2008 presidential race, Sen. Hillary Clinton's landslide victory in New York probably fortifies her chances if she does decide to run. But on the Republican side, the situation has become even further clouded. I still feel former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, rather than Sen. John McCain is the more likely prospect, but further developments are likely.

Even Sen. Barack Obama is not favoring a precipitate withdrawal from the war. So it's clear it will go on. But hopefully, there will be a new strategy.

So, there is not quite as much in the election as many Democrats would like.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Honor to Dean Baquet. Hiller Must Go

--written from London

It is typical of the stinking Tribune Co. that it would use the cover of the election to oust the distinguished editor of the Times, Dean Baquet, whose efforts on behalf of the newspaper command our love and admiration.

I have sent David Hiller, the Ken Starr associate sent to publish the Times, a simple heartfelt message: "Fuck you, you dirty scoundrel."

The fight for future of the L.A. Times must go on .until the last vestiges of the experience with the Tribune Co. are behind the paper, Los Angeles and California.

A new editor is now being foisted on the Times, another squalid import from Chicago. It would be appropriate to make this usurper feel as unwelcome as possible. Neither he nor Hiller has any business in Los Angeles and they should be sent packing by any means available.

Certainly, Baquet will be wished well. He performed every service he could for the newspaper and his ouster by FitzSimons, Smith and Hiller can only be regarded as a great compliment of sorts, since who would want to serve this greasy trio in any responsible capacity.

We do not need to wish Baquet well. A man of his talent and character will have it.

Something should also be said of the day chosen for Baquet's termination. These yellow-bellied cowards tried to use the cover of an immensely significant election to do their dirty work, in hopes that there would be less notice.

They will not be successful in disguising the evil of their deed, and they will be no more comfortable in Los Angeles than any aggressive invader of our city and state would ever be.

Long may we fight against these outsiders.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Musical "Billy Elliott" In London's Victoria Theatre An Absolute Smash

-- written from London

Sometimes, a production is such an absolute smash, people should come from the ends of the earth to see it.

That is true now of the musical "Billy Elliott" at London's Victoria Theatre. Many of us viewing it last night on the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's London tour thought it was the finest musical they had ever seen. We came out of the theatre on an absolute high.

This is the story of a 12-year-old boy who comes out of a miner's family to become the best child dancer in all England, and he and every member of the huge cast, including many other children, and many grizzled miners, are fabulous from start to finish, keeping the audience in a state of rapt attention.

The London theatre is no longer cheap. Our tickets were $120 each, but worth every penny.

The show was a popular movie a few years ago, but the show, with new music by Sir Elton John, and sets that are stupendous, puts the movie in the shade.

Last night, as every performance, was a sellout, so if you come to London, you'd better buy well in advance, but this is simply not to be missed. It puts Oklahoma, South Pacific and My Fair Lady all in the shade.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Democrats Will Certainly Win The House, And Probably The Senate

--written from London

It seems very uncommon here to find anyone who wishes President Bush well in the Mid Term election, and my sense right along has been that these folks will be satisfied to see the House and Senate revert to Democratic control.

I think the President has frittered away time without coming up with a plan in Iraq and that he has nobody but himself to blame for his difficulties. Very few Presidents in American history would have stuck with Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense as long as he has.

He may say he is going to keep him now, but if he fares badly tomorrow, he will have to change positions.

Predictions are always chancy in elections, but I expect to see the Democrats take the House easily, and I would think they will skim through with six or seven gains for Senate control. I expect also that Lieberman will be reelected in Connecticut.

But it is by no means certain a Democratic victory will mean that much change in Iraq. A poll last week said that only 27% of Americans think we should withdraw from the war, even though most are against it.

There is apt to be a new order in Washington after tomorrow, and it may be a contentious two years until the next election.


Sunday, November 05, 2006

London Subways Extensive, Frequent And Even Polite

--written from London

I'm in London for a week of plays, and yesterday took the subway out to the western suburbs to have lunch at the home of Kim Murphy, the L.A. Times London correspondent, and her family. Others from the Times were also there and we had a good time.

Kim lives fairly close, she says sometimes the noise makes it seem too close,to the Heathrow Airport. It took more than an hour on the subways from central London to ge there.

The subway network is very extensive here, the trains very frequent and the crowds in the cars immense. But it struck me as a very polite clientele. In transferring, etc. I rode four different trains and in each one of them, someone stood up to give me their seat. It may have been my decrepit appearance, but still... Also, everyone was very kind with their instructions as to which way to go. The trains are not fast, but they get you there, and, by contrast, the surface traffic in London is horrendous. It cost me just $10 for a day's pass, which, considering the distance and what taxis cost, struck me as a bargain.

British food continues to be problematic. Kim and her husband served the best lunch of the trip so far. One of her children was at a soccer match, but her nine-year-old daughter was there.

Kim, a former Cairo correspondent for the Times, gave her prescription during the lunch for a Middle Eastern settlement and said she believes that if the Arab-Israeli dispute were settled, the wars all over the Middle East would cease.

She believes a settlement would include Israeli withdrawal behind the 1967 borders, internationalization of Jerusalem with the Jews living in the western half and the Arabs in the eastern half, and recognition of Israel by Hamas and Hezbollah. She didn't mention a right of return, and she said she is not confident that any such settlement will be coming soon.

Later, I saw the first of six plays, Tom Stoppard's Rock and Roll. This is a trip sponsored by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and has 45 participants.


More about the Mid Term elections tomorrow, but I expect a Democratic sweep. It is hard to believe that with 52% saying they want a Democratic victory and only 33% a Republican, anything else can result. Here in London, there is a celebratory mood about the prospects.


Friday, November 03, 2006

London Times Column Suggests Kerry Might Be Rove's "Manchurian candidate"

--Written from London

The British papers can be so much more entertaining than the big American ones. They don't always take everything seriously.

Take today's London Times. It has a wonderful column by Gerard Baker suggesting that Sen. John Kerry might be a "Manchurian candidate" engineered by Karl Rove to sabotage the Democratic party.

"It seems entirely possible that at some point in his career, he was seized by a youthful Karl Rove, brainwashed and programmed to kill off, at crucial moments in American history, the Democratic party's political prospects," Baker writes.

This first became evident in 2004, he adds, when Kerry snatched defeat from Democratic victory prospects against President Bush, and has just been proved by Kerry's joke besmirching American troops fighting in Iraq.

Sounds quite reasonable to me.

The London Times also has a good article speculating on the critical ramifications for Prime Minister Tony Blair should the Republicans lose on Tuesday.

My flight to London on United Airlines business class at a discounted rate wasn't bad. I recommend it. Today, when I arrived, was an unusual day in London, bright and sunny. But I quickly proved to myself that the chances of getting really bad food here in Britain haven't been diminished, when I ordered "French" onion soup and got something that was an insult to France.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Tribune Moves One Step Closer To Possible Sale

A tentative hurrah. The inept Tribune Co. has moved one step closer to sale of the L.A. Times and/or other former Times-Mirror papers in Baltimore, New York, Hartford and elsewhere by letting out the word that it will accept offers for individual pieces of the company.

This comes after preliminary bids from several private equity firms for the entire company were disappointingly low, although given Tribune performance this was only to be expected, and the stock price dipped again to the $32 level.

Now is the time for David Geffen, Eli Broad, Ron Burkle and any other possible local buyers of the L.A. Times to come forward and show enough real interest to make a nonbinding, preliminary bid.

The trouble is, however, that while the Tribune Co. has dithered, the value of the Times has probably declined. Since the Tribune began talking about selling assets, circulation of all the former Times-Mirror newspapers has dropped, with the L.A. Times taking an 8% hit. And besides that, the Times has adopted an unpopular redesign that has further alienated its readership.

There was talk a few months ago that Geffen might be prepared to put up $3 billion to buy the Times. Now, that figure is said to be $2 billion.

You can't have people like David Hiller and Joe Hutchinson in charge of a paper for long without its value being diminished.

So we'll have to see what offers now actually come in.

Not all American newspapers are down in circulation. In New York, where Rupert Murdoch has been ambitious, his New York Post is up considerably and its competitor, the Daily News, is up slightly. But during the same six-month period, the better paper, the New York Times, was down 3.5%.

There has been so much poor mouthing of newspaper prospects in general, in the age of the Internet, that all offers for Tribune Co. assets may be less than originally expected.

On the other hand, the ideas of Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons, specifically his stock buyback and cost cutting, layoffs, etc., have failed miserably, spinning the company into ever greater difficulties. All that FitzSimons has accumulated is more debt.

FitzSimons, Scott Smith, Hiller, Hutchinson and the rest of this motley crew may, in short, be at the end of their tether. In that case, sales of some assets are certainly in prospect, and we can only hope the L.A. Times is among them.


Ominous reports this morning from the Horn of Africa say that Somali fundamentalists who have taken over part of Somalia are now threatening war and suicide attacks against both Kenya and Ethiopia. This is only to be expected when Muslim extremists take over. If war does result from a collapse of talks, then it might well be necessary for Somalia to be taken over as a colony. We see in this area what would likely happen were U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Kerry Has Done Himself In, If Not The Republicans, With Silly Remark

George Romney never recovered politically from his campaign remark that he had been "brainwashed" about Vietnam, and so it will go with John Kerry in his "botched joke" denigrating the American military.

Kerry apologized this morning on MSNBC, saying, "I said it was a botched joke. I'm sorry about a botched joke." And he cancelled campaign appearances for Democratic candidates in the Mid Term elections, not wishing to be a distraction.

I think this is too late to save the Republicans in an election that has been trending heavily Democratic in the polls. But it's probably the end of Kerry in the 2008 race. Even before this happened, Kerry was caught somewhere between his heroism in Vietnam and his cut-and-run advocacy in Iraq.

The L.A. Times does a service this morning when it prints, accompanying the lead story in the paper, exact quotes of what Kerry's prepared remarks would have had him say at the appearance with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides at Pasadena City College, and then what he actually did say.

In the prepared remarks, Kerry was to say, "Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush."

What Kerry did say, was, "You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

The remark, either the prepared or the actually declared, would have landed Kerry in trouble, and is at least an illustration of the old adage that it is dangerous to joke in American politics. Maybe, just maybe, in the prepared remarks, Kerry was talking about President Bush. The way it came out, he never mentioned him.

For one thing, suggesting American troops have failed in their education is not true. Through personal experience I can say that many educated people go into the military, and some are in Iraq today.

But, for Kerry, it is devastating. This reminds one of Kerry's inopportune remarks during his presidential campaign that he had voted for the Iraq war in the Senate, but he had also voted against it. The Massachusetts senator does not seem to know his own mind, and one reason he lost the presidential race in 2004 was that he waffled on what his Iraq policy was.

Since then, Kerry has been leading the Democratic minority (thus far) who wish simply to withdraw from Iraq without paying attention to the probable consequences.

While it's all probably too late to save the Republicans in the Mid Terms, it still could be felt in such close races as the Senate contests in Missouri and Virginia.

Regardless, I believe, it's the end of Kerry's presidential aspirations. He will never live this down.

House Republican leader John Boenner drove that home today by stating of Kerry, "he is a liberal, a leftist and this is the typical attitude they have toward our military. It goes to show you what liberal Democrats would do if they were to take control of the House and Senate."

Maybe not, because not all Democrats want to exactly cut and run, as does John Kerry. Still, he has embarrassed both himself and the Democratic party.