Friday, August 31, 2007

L.A. Times California Section Is Improving

When the daily L.A. Times and New York Times are delivered at my house early each morning, I've found myself of late looking at the California Section of the L.A. Times first.

Of course, at my age, the obituaries are interesting, and they are in that section. But the fact is, the section is improving, with a mix of good stories, columns and beats that are working out. It's encouraging that, at last, after seven years of Tribune ownership, the paper seems to be doing something right. And it is showcasing a local staff that has always had many smarts.

For one thing, the editors have been moving state columnist George Skelton out from way inside the section, where John Carroll first stuck him when he was editor, to Page 1 of the section. Skelton's columns are a highly sophisticated look at what is happening in California politics, and recently he has had particularly excellent coverage of the state budget fight, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's fractious relations with legislative Republicans, and, yesterday, a very good column on the proposed antiwar measure that may go on the February 5 primary ballot in what Skelton views as the unlikely event that Schwarzenegger goes along with the partisan Democratic push for it in the Legislature.

Years ago, the late Times political editor Art Berman remarked that the most important thing a political writer does is to cover conflict, that the good ones are able to reach a wholesome balance of reporting both, or all, sides. Skelton is particularly good at this. A former White House correspondent and longtime statehouse reporter in Sacramento, he is a real asset to the Times. Let's hope he doesn't retire soon.

I need not say anything about Steve Lopez's column. It continues to be a highlight of the newspaper.

Right above Skelton's column yesterday was an intriguing and tough story by the always able Richard Winton on how Sherry Lansing and William Friedkin had paid ADT Home Security $25,000 for 24-hour patrols to protect their Bel Air home from burglary. But when they were out of town on a trip and one occurred, the company apparently dropped the ball completely, showing up only an hour and 45 minutes after the alarm and then not noticing evidence of a break in. The couple is suing the firm.

Winton is not like Noam Levey, the anti-war advocate in the Times' Washington bureau, who covers just the anti-Bush Administration side of that story. Winton made every attempt to get a statement from ADT, but, perhaps wisely, the hapless security agency chose not to answer his calls.

The Times, when Eric Malnic was around, used to regularly have good weather stories. Now, they may be coming back (although, as I remarked earlier this week, the actual weather page could use some updating, lagging in interest and features behind the New York Times). Still, the story yesterday by Stuart Silverstein and Elizabeth Douglass was an excellent account of the tremendous temperature variations within Southern California during the heat wave. These variations, of course, are a mark of an arid climate. In New York, every part of the metropolitan area has the same high humidity and temperatures in the summer, and the same freeze in the winter. Here, we have our cool beaches in the summer and mild ones in the winter.

Greg Krikorian had a good story also in the California Section yesterday on the limited options facing the jury in the protracted Phil Spector trial. Much of this trial has been covered by Peter Hong, who has done a bangup job.

Also, this week, I should take note of the fascinating story by Tami Abdollah and Maria LaGanga, about the Rolling Hills Estates man who faces a possible six months in jail (unless Sheriff Lee Baca releases him after 82 minutes) for building a fence that allegedly encroaches on a cherished public bridal trail and has been resisting forever taking it down. The judge remarked she may retire before this one is resolved.

Rong-Gong Lin's coverage of the area's traffic problems is also a frequent subject in this section, and the Times obituaries often trump those in the New York Times. Charles Ornstein's revealing reports, which won a 2005 Pulitzer Prize for public service, had a good deal to do with finally shutting down the woeful Martin Luther King Hospital. Just today, there is a terrific graphic on the new seismically-safer San Francisco Bay Bridge, now under construction.

I cite all these just as examples of what is being done right in this section, and it's a delight to say that the paper is doing more than one thing right. I don't know whether this is due to editor James O'Shea's perseverance on his pledge to enhance local coverage, but compliments to him, if it is, and it would seem certain that metro editor Janet Clayton and city editor Shelby Grad also deserve some of the credit along with the reporters.

The section is not perfect. It didn't do so well lately when 17,000 international passengers were stuck on the runways of Los Angeles International Airport for hours when a computer glitch shut down Customs. But a newspaper is a daily operation: It can't do everything right, all the time.

Frankly, I'm not so impressed with the announcement that the Times' new Image section will go weekly. This deplorable example of Hollywood glitz and cheesecake has not, thus far, proved to be much worth reading.


There's a report from the Taliban-dominated South Waziristan province of Pakistan this morning that the Taliban has seized more than 100 Pakistani soldiers as hostages. This can only compound the increasingly worrying situation in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state under pressure from the terrorists of both the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The recent hostage episode in neighboring Afghanistan, where the Taliban kidnapped 23 South Korean religious pilgrims, finally killing two and releasing the others after a deal the terms of which remain cloudy. The Taliban has found that world attention quickly focuses on these episodes, and they are bound to continue, possibly not only in Pakistan and Afghanistan.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Spectre Of Global Warming Infuses The Media

Global warming is one of the most important, intriguing stories of our time -- and it really is hardly underway. If most scientists are right, it will soon become a dominant factor affecting lives all over the planet. And the news media is not far behind in picking up on the excitement and foreboding.

Already, the major newspapers and television networks are paying far more attention to hurricanes than they once did, in part because technological advances give us a better idea how powerful a storm will be and where it is going, but, in part also because there is a widespread belief that global warming will make the storms more frequent and more severe.

Never mind that Hurricane Katrina two years ago has been followed by a comparative lull in hurricanes affecting the southeastern part of the United States. In both years since, long range weather forecasters have predicted a vigorous hurricane season, but last year it didn't materialize, and this year it hasn't yet.

Still, when a hurricane threatens, as Hurricane Dean did last week, the coverage by the cable news networks and the main networks has been massive, and the big newspapers sent correspondents to Yucatan.

It's clear, with the weather, there are anomalies, and the global warming, while winning majority acceptance, hasn't really been made manifest yet in the way most of us live. Yes, this has been a record hot summer in parts of the South and the Midwest, but it has been cooler than normal in the Northeast. It has been far wetter than usual in Texas, Oklahoma, and, more recently, the Midwest. But the thunderstorms from the monsoon that usually come into the Southwest from the Gulf of California have not been particularly impressive this year. That has contributed to the heat in Phoenix, where, as the L.A. Times reports today, a new record of 29 days has been set for temperatures 110 degrees and above.

A minority, such as the author Michael Crichton, continues to argue that global warming is not real, and this faction has been able this summer to cite calculations that, actually, 1934 was a hotter year globally than 1998. But, again, these are anomalies. A preponderant majority of scientists, armed with computer calculations, express certitude that global warming caused by human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, is real. Just today, the Washington Post publishes an article reporting that the Irish Environmental Protection Agency has found that since 1980 Ireland has been warming by 0.76 degrees per decade, twice the world rate, the climate is growing wetter and floods are more likely.

Wait awhile, scientists tell us. By 2050, many say, the seas will be rising as the melting of glacial ice proceeds in Greenland, the Arctic ocean and Antarctica. Already, Alaska has seen considerable warming. Glaciers are receding all over the world, and greater and greater sections of the Arctic ocean are ice free now in the summer, endangering perhaps even the existence of the polar bear.

We are a long way from most of Florida, New York City and the South Bay area of Los Angeles being submerged by rising seas, and, in any case, scientists differ just how substantial the rise in ocean levels may be.

But there are exotic theories out there -- such as that the Gulf Stream may be weakened by the warming, and Western Europe may actually sink, for awhile at least, into a deep freeze.

If all this isn't a gigantic story, I don't know what is. And the networks, such as CNN, and newspapers, such as the New York Times that track it most carefully will surely benefit.

The New York Times has recently put a new feature on its already sophisticated and well-written weather page. This tracks five days of high and low temperatures that have occurred and the next five days that will occur in major cities across the country. Not only that, but each graph shows the record high and low temperatures for each date in each city. In recent weeks, Atlanta and Denver are among the cities where record high temperatures have consistently occurred. As I say, New York and Boston have been below normal, and, up until this week's heat wave, Los Angeles has been fairly normal.

Compare the New York Times weather page with that of the Los Angeles Times, which hasn't changed in years, and is by comparison quite unimaginative.

It would not be terribly expensive to improve the L.A. Times weather page. That should certainly be undertaken.

Actually, the L.A. Times has often been in the forefront in assessing changes that are taking place in the environment as affected by the weather. Marla Cone has done pioneer work in this regard in the Arctic, and Lee Hotz, a Pulitzer Prize finalist before he left the paper for the Wall Street Journal, undertook lengthy expeditions to Antarctica. Also, there has been the glorious work with the altered oceans by Kenneth R. Weiss and Usha Lee McFarling, along with photographer Rick Loomis, whose team won a 2007 Pulitzer Prize in April. McFarling has gone home to raise children, but hopefully she will be back.

Yet, as I remarked in yesterday's blog, the L.A. Times science coverage has overall been allowed to wither substantially on a day to day basis. The newspaper dropped its science page soon after the conscientious and intelligent Joel Greenberg was put out to pasture by Miriam Pawel, while the New York Times weekly science section sets the pace for the whole media. Both papers, however, pay substantial attention to global warming issues on their editorial pages.

The loss of Frank Clifford as environmental editor of the L.A. Times will be felt, although I think Geoff Mohan is potentially a good replacement.

As global warming does take hold, those who provide the best coverage of the myriad of issues that arise from it will, I believe, derive great advantages with the reading public. Because of their ability to print graphics and long detailed stories, this is one area where newspapers should have it all over the Internet. The Internet too has graphic capabilities of course, but less scope to package them than the newspapers.

I confess I'm a little terrified of what might happen with the weather. It's occurred to me that it's possible the warming will be greater than many scientists now predict, even eventually threatening to turn the Earth into another Venus. And, I reflected this summer while visiting the California Redwoods, I wonder whether this fragile ecosystem will survive.

It worries me less that six of the eight Ivy League colleges, all but Cornell and Dartmouth, could be submerged in rising seas. But that''s because I went to Dartmouth. Now, my kids, Yale and Berkeley graduates, must not be so sanguine.


Noam Levey of the L.A. Times Washington bureau shows again this morning in a Page 1 feature that he is a shameless advocate of American surrender in Iraq. His coverage is never objective, and, at the moment, he has less credibility than Vice President Cheney. Journalists should be advocates, but on the editorial, not on the news, pages. In Levey's articles, there is not the least pretence of being fair or, in this case, asking reasonable questions of the former soldier he writes about.

Levey has been the primary L.A. Times writer on the efforts by some Democrats in Congress to force the beginnings of a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. He has never given, however, more than the pro side of this argument. It is, in its own way, as biased a coverage as we have come to expect on the other side from Fox News. The Times is being used by this reporter to fulfill his own agenda, and the editors who deal with him are being naive.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

LAT Earthquake Insurance Reporting Falls Short

California's insurance coverage for earthquakes is even more inadequate than New Orleans' levees were in protecting that unfortunate city against a hurricane disaster.

The same kind of neglect is in evidence. Just as the Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies of the government failed totally to see that the levee system was extensive enough or strong enough to withstand even a hurricane like Katrina that glanced by New Orleans, so California' s Earthquake Authority is not only short of providing complete coverage: It provides coverage to only the small minority -- about 15% -- of California homeowners who buy it, and even for them the coverage is saddled with a high 15% deductible before it kicks in. This means that a $300,000 home would have to sustain $45,000 of covered damage, before the homeowner could collect anything. And much of what is understood generally as part of the property, such as garages and swimming pools, do not count toward satisfying the deductible at all. They are not covered.

Now, as L.A. Times reporter Marc Lifsher wrote in Tuesday's newspaper, the Legislature is preparing to reduce the required minimal support for the Earthquake Authority that the private insurance companies have hitherto had to give to satisfy claims, when they arise, by $1 billion from the initial $2.2 billion.

This move, another prospective giveaway by a corrupt Legislature and governor's office to a powerful private industry, would increase dramatically the chance that the Earthquake Authority's assets would be inadequate to pay even the small percentage of homeowners who carry the insurance, when a quake on the order of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, or even the Northridge quake of 1994, occurs.

I say when, because ultimately another large earthquake is inevitable in California, and the state's ever-increasing density of population makes it ever more likely that the damages will be greater than they were in 1906 or 1994 (In Northridge, they were about $40 billion).

The reporter in this case has demonstrated before that he does not understand the numbers in the insurance business. Now, again he has failed to write an article which gives an accurate picture of the danger. His editors at the Times cannot escape responsibility either.

He does speculate, no doubt correctly, that fewer people will buy the insurance if the premiums go up. But he devotes no attention whatsoever to the question of how many homeowners, in a big quake, would be without any coverage, and he does not discuss the question then, of whether, the government would actually come to those people's rescue with its own funds.

We see in the Katrina disaster how government aid has been way short of providing enough to restore the New Orleans and Mississippi Gulf Coast areas to what they were before the 2005 hurricane. Just this week, the television networks have been recording that fact on the hurricane's second anniversary, and Time magazine did a major story. The unhappy truth is that the government, at least in the Bush Administration, has lost its will to provide adequate aid in such big disasters, and without substantial private insurance the relief is not going to come.

Yet in California, where the earthquake danger in the metropolitan areas may well exceed the hurricane danger along the Gulf Coast, state lawmakers allowed the insurance companies to ditch their responsibilities after they paid out $15 billion in Northridge claims and then bluffed the Legislature in 1996 into believing they would quit business in the state altogether unless they were relieved of most future liability to pay earthquake claims.

Originally, as Lifsher reports, the Earthquake Authority was projected to accumulate $6 billion in reserves and have 2 million insured homeowners by the end of 2008. It is falling well short of those goals, although, in this inadequate article, the author doesn't even say what reserve it has at present. He does report it has about 755,000 customers, one third the number projected by the end of next year.

There is nothing in this article about what scientists have said the odds of a big quake are in various areas of this state. Yet studies have been done on this matter, and the estimates are readily available. The odds on such a quake occurring in the next 30 years in both Northern and Southern California are high.

The Times, under Tribune Co. control, has let vital areas of coverage slip, but none more than in science, where the staff is just not anywhere near what it was. Still, it is necessary that the paper find someone who can cover the subject of insurance protection against damaging earthquakes far more satisfactorily than Lifsher has been doing.

I should not end this piece without saying a word about the death of David Garcia, a long time Southern California environmental reporter on television who was one of the few in the media who really was an earthquake expert and joined his knowledge with real interest. Garcia, who died in Palm Desert Tuesday of liver cancer at the age of 63, was the reporter for Channel 11, KTTV, during the Northridge quake, and performed impressively. He was an esteemed colleague and well liked by the earthquake scientists.

There have been no major damaging earthquakes in urban areas of California since 1994, and in their absence, public attention has drifted away from the danger. But it is there. Such earthquakes will occur, and we have to prepare for them. The Times, as the paper's largest newspaper, has a major responsibility to assist the public in this regard.


The Washington Post has an excellent story today on Japan's success developing Internet service much faster and more comprehensive than the U.S. The speed at obtaining information is, on the average, about 30 times higher in Japan than here. Also, in Japan, television seen on the Internet often matches in clarity that seen on ordinary television sets.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Will Pollution, Humidity, Spoil Beijing Olympics?

When I was the writer for the L.A. Times on the preparations and politics of the 1984 Olympics, I found it tempting to be too negative. It was easy to write ceaselessly about all the problems the Games might encounter, and some writers were even more negative than I was.

After all, until the events begin, and athletic performance became the key story, there was really little to write about but problems or potential problems. In Los Angeles, it was the cost of the games, traffic and security that seemed to be the worst. We had people in this community who went so far as to suggest that the traffic would be so bad, people would actually leave their cars on the freeways and walk.

I never believed this, or went quite so far, and I was somewhat impressed by the assessment of 1984 Olympic security director Edgar Best, a former FBI agent who had been in charge of the Bureau's Los Angeles office, who contended that the terror attack at the 1972 Munich Olympics notwithstanding, there was not all that great a chance of any terror attack in Los Angeles. The Olympics, Best concluded, were not all that popular a target, since athletes from everywhere are participating in them, and most of the world's population supports the Games.

Well, as everyone knows, none of the problems developed in Los Angeles, and by the third day it was evident the Games were going to be a tremendous success. (But when I wrote that, I got balled out by Noel Greenwood, then the Times metro editor, who told me there was no cause at that point for all the optimism. As it turned out, however, I was right and Greenwood was wrong).

I write all this today, because Sunday we saw, in the New York Times, another one of these articles of gloom and doom about a forthcoming Olympics. This time it was the 2008 Beijing Games. Juliet Macur, writing from the world track and field championships at Osaka, Japan, about the adverse effect of the high humidity and 90 degree temperatures on the runners in the marathon, went on to speculate that Beijing would see more of the same next year.

Macur noted that in a visit to China this month, Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, had said some Olympic events in Beijing might be postponed if the pollution that is common in that city put the athletes at risk.

When I read this, I took it with several large grains of salt. It is very common that IOC presidents go to an Olympic city in the time leading up to the Games and raise all sorts of concerns about how the preparations are going. This also happened with the Athens Games in 2004. Then, there were countless assessments that construction of facilities was proceeding too slowly, and the Games would not be ready in time.

But in the actual event, everything was ready.

The fact is that becauise of all the money committed to television rights for the Games, it is almost unthinkable that, barring some catastrophe, the IOC would delay anything. Even when the Israeli team was attacked in Munich, the IOC quickly decided to go ahead with the Games, as it did after the less significant bombing in Atlanta.

All that said, the climate in Beijing could well cause problems for the Olympics, just as the 1996 Games in Atlanta were impacted by the customary high humidity there. If the IOC were really interested in the well being of the athletes, above all, as it says it is, then it would avoid such cities when it was selecting sites for the Games. But the organization, out of hubris, and a desire to spread the Games to new locales, often ignores both climactic and political difficulties in deciding where to hold the Games.

Even in Los Angeles, Peter Ueberroth, the president of the organizing committee, decided to hold the marathon events early in the morning, so as to reduce the effect of heat on the athletes. And L.A. doesn't usually have humidity problems.

By the way, Chicago, the American candidate city for the 2016 Olympics, does frequently have high humidity, and, for that reason, may not be such a good Olympic site.

In some Games in the past, such as at Seoul in 1988, the Games were scheduled for September, when the biggest heat of the summer was apt to be past. Although that worked out well from a climactic point of view, it wasn't satisfactory to American television, which has pro football and the end of the baseball season going on in the same time frames in September, and wants the high summer as the time for the Olympics so as to avoid competition.

I have no doubt that the Beijing Games could have problems, if from nothing else than Chinese totalitarian politics. But, on the other hand, the Chinese, like the Russians in 1980 in Moscow have every incentive to be on their best behavior during the Games, when the whole world's attention is on them.

The Russians, worried about their food, imported much of what they served both the athletes and the press corps from Finland during the Games, and for the first time they opened direct telephone lines to the West, so one could dial calls rather than going through an operator. Then, if memory serves me, they didn't even bill for many of the calls.

The Macur article in the New York Times Sunday was in accord with time-honored pre-Olympic coverage. It conjured up a disaster, but I believe one is less likely than some might suppose.


Today's Page 1 article in the L.A. Times by David Streitfeld, "Blight Moves In After Foreclosure," points up the myriad consequences of the inability of the private financial institutions, or the public institutions that are supposed to regulate them, like the Federal Reserve Board, to prevent the kind of chaos we now see developing from the Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis. But one such consequence of Countryside excess and greed in giving money to the unqualified and then saddling them with loans impossible for them to pay off is more West Nile virus. It is spreading out of the vacant, unmaintained swimming pools of the newly dispossessed, which have become the spawning grounds of mosquitoes.


Monday, August 27, 2007

Gonzales Resignation Marks Bush As Lame Duck

As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said this morning, the resignation announced today of Alberto Gonzales as U.S. Attorney General was "long overdue." Even President Bush, in his statement, referred to a "harmful disruption" he said had been caused at the Justice Department by the long controversy over Gonzales' conduct.

Although the President charged that "mud" had been thrown at Gonzales, the truth of the matter is that the only mud had been thrown by Gonzales himself. He was caught in lies about the partisan firing of eight U.S. attorneys earlier this year, and then became implicated in an improper pressuring of the former attorney general, John Ashcroft, to approve a new surveillance system while Ashcroft lay in a Washington hospital severely ill.

(I had not realized how often Gonzales either could not or would not tell the truth until I read the list in Tuesday morning's New York Times. The most charitable construction to be put on some of Gonzales' answers was that he had attended meetings but paid no attention to what was said there, or that, somehow, he had an impaired intellect).

Unfortunately, Gonzales was never of the stature needed in this sensitive post. He was merely a crony the President brought with him from Texas. It is unfortunate indeed that the first Hispanic attorney general of the U.S. was so poorly qualified to hold the job.

With the recent departure of White House political adviser Karl Rove and the earlier resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the Bush Administration, as we have known it, has been coming apart. Although he has 17 months left in the White House, Mr. Bush now might properly be considered a lame duck, and about the only thing he may be able to accomplish is to hold on in the Iraq war. Even that is not certain.

Another important aspect of today's resignation is that the President will have to appoint a successor who is acceptable to the Democratic majority in Congress. Otherwise, it is unlikely he or she will be confirmed.

There was speculation in a New York Times story that one possible successor is Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, but, due to the mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina response and recovery, even this nominally nonpartisan figure could be a controversial nominee. Others mentioned in the Times story were Christopher Cox, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, or Larry D. Thompson, a former deputy attorney general now with Pepsi Cola. Cox, at least, has been highly partisan and may not be acceptable either. Later in the day, the name of Sen. Orren Hatch of Utah came up. It is an old strategem with a difficult environment for confirmation that the President names a sitting senator from his own political party in hopes that his colleagues will let him slip by. But Hatch is really not a good choice for the post.

It would be better if Mr. Bush were to name someone new, a nonpartisan and broadly acceptable to both parties in the Congress.

This development also makes clearer, if it needed to be, that the President will not be able to follow his Supreme Court choices of the reactionary John Roberts and Samuel Alito, with new appointments of the same ilk, even if they were to arise before the end of his Presidency. It would take a far more centrist personality to win confirmation from this Congress. This is all to the good, because the Supreme Court has been allowed to drift too far to the right, and some of its recent 5-4 decisions, with Roberts and Alito joining, have been highly questionable, really contrary to the public interest.

The Gonzales resignation also represents a triumph for those Democrats in Congress, Pelosi, Senate Mahority Leader Harry Reid, and New York Sen. Charles Schumer who have insisted upon it, as well as such independent Republicans as Sen. Arlen Specter, who also called for it.

The attorney general of the United States is a public official who should be above reproach. Gonzales clearly was not.

This, by the way, was by far the most important story of the day, but the CNN network, ever more inclined to focus on sleazy "human interest" pieces, kept playing the Michael Vick dog fighting plea as more important. This is laughable. A degenerate professional football player who kills dogs is not as worthy a story as the resignation of the attorney general of the United States.


The long article in the New York Times yesterday by Gretchen Morgenson into the squalid and dishonest lending practices of Countrywide Financial Corp., the nation's largest mortgage lender, performed an important public service. The story detailed how this firm has defrauded many thousands of borrowers who deserved better terms with lower interest, while its brokers grabbed extraordinary commissions, becoming rich from their work. These brokers had the gall to assure customers that they were getting them the best possible loans, when they weren't. Then prepayment penalties kept the hapless victims who might otherwise have been able to secure something at a lower price locked in.

L.A. Times coverage of Countrywide has, by comparison, been unduly bland and, on the whole, unrevealing. It is particularly noteworthy that the newspaper's new consumer columnist, David Lazarus, has been confining himself to writing about safe subjects, like identity theft and health care, when he should have been writing about this grossly offensive California-based corporation or airline travesties. It is also discouraging that the Bank of America would come to Countrywide's aid with a $2 billion infusion of funds without insisting on a total cleanup first.

The L.A. Times, however, today finally came around to producing a fairly decent story (by Peter Pae) about the overcrowding and delays in U.S. air travel this summer from the customer's point of view. That, like the Gonzales resignation, was "long overdue."


Sunday, August 26, 2007

U.S. Must Focus On Larger Purposes in Mideast

Communists and other leftists in India are trying to scuttle the recent nuclear agreement between India and the United States on grounds that its restriction on Indian nuclear testing constitutes an infringement on Indian sovereignty. Both the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times have articles on this today, the one in the Post somewhat more pointed.

The agreement between the two countries is vital to both. It is important on the one hand that we show that we are willing to support peaceful nuclear power development in a fast-growing third world economy like that of India. And it is vital too from the standpoint of the war against Islamic extremism that the U.S. and India continue to stand together.

The Indians have possibly an even greater interest than we do in preventing Osama bin Laden and his ilk from dominating South Asia and the Middle East. It has long been evident that the integrity of the Indian state is dependent on retention of Kashmir and a continuation of more or less moderate, even if dictatorial, government in Pakistan. To the extent that the terrorists prevail in either place, India's security is threatened, and India, just as much as the U.S., is endangered directly by terrorist attacks.

We see yesterday in Hyderabad, where bombs believed planted by Islamic extremists blew up in two parts of the city, killing more than 40 innocents, that the terrorists continue to have India as one of their prime targets. A few months ago, hundreds were killed in Bombay in similar attacks.

In the long run, the U.S. must make common cause too with Russia and China against Islamic fascism. Just last week, killings by Islamic rebels resumed near Chechnya of Russian military personnel, and recent developments in both Pakistan and Afghanistan have endangered Chinese and other Asians working or visiting in those countries. China is confronting Islamic sedition in its own northwest provinces.

These relations with major states involve our larger purposes in the Middle East and South Asia, and we cannot afford to be distracted by lesser interests. But neither can the Indians. The leftwing argument now that India has somehow sold its soul to the U.S. in the nuclear agreement doesn't hold much water, since the U.S. has agreed to share much nuclear technology, while not insisting on the safeguards it has in agreements with others.

Meanwhile, the U.S., as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman points out in a column today, is entirely too shy in waging the propaganda war against bin Laden and his supporters. Contrary to what they and their sympathizers say, it is not us who are responsible for the mayhem in the region. And we are becoming desensitized to the carnage around us. (Yesterday's attacks in India rated only short articles today, buried in the other foreign coverage of both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times).

Friedman remarks, "Dive into a conversation about America in the Arab world today, or even in Europe and Africa, and it won't take 30 seconds before the words 'Abu Ghraib' and 'Guantanamo Bay' are thrown at you. Yes, both are shameful, but Abu Ghraib was a day at the beach compared to what Al Qaeda and its Sunni jihadist supporters have been doing in Iraq, yet none of their acts have become one-punch global insults like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

"Consider what happened on Aug. 14. Four jihadist suicide-bombers blew themselves up in two Iraqi villages, killing more than 500 Kurdish civilians -- men, women and children -- who belonged to a tiny pre-Islamic sect known as the Yazidis.

"And what was the Bush team's response to this outrage? Virtual silence. After much Googling, the best I could find was: 'We're looking at Al Qaeda as the prime suspect,' said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a U.S. military spokesman. Wow.

"Excuse me, but what exactly are we fighting for in Iraq, or in this wider war against Islamic extremism, if the murder of 500 civilians can be shrugged off? Even if we don't know the exact perpetrators, we know who is inspiring this sort of genocide -- Al Qaeda and bin Laden -- and we need to say that every day."

Amen! At least, there's no doubt which side Friedman is on. He is quite a bit tougher than other parts of the New York Times editorial pages.

On every side, we see American interests assaulted by people whose bad will toward us is manifest.

It is clear when leftwingers in India try to keep India from associating with the U.S. in nuclear affairs, and it is clear when, as today, the Iranian-lining prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, accuses U.S. troops of murdering Shiite civilians in the war in Iraq.

Maliki, as a number of American visitors to Iraq have said in recent days, is no friend of the U.S. and needs to be removed from power. Over many months, he has done everything he could to abet Shiite-inspired ethnic cleansing in Iraq, which our military perforce must resist.

Today, also, Maliki attacked Sens. Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin, saying, "There are American officials who consider Iraq as if it were one of their villages, for example Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin. They should come to their senses."

But Maliki is wrong. Thousands of American soldiers have died in Iraq to bring about a government there more satisfactory to American interests. Hundreds of billions of American dollars have been spent. We have far too much at stake in the outcome of the war to allow a sectarian like the Shiite Maliki to dictate our policies. And when Maliki assails American officials in the opposition who are seeking a successful way to resolve this mess, he is attacking the democratic system in this country, which is far more important to the world than anything that happens in the political squabbling and sectarian strife in Baghdad.

We must keep our eyes on the ball -- our larger interests. We cannot be distracted.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Federal Official Warns, But Locals Dither Over LAX

Los Angeles is nowhere near as economically progressive as Shanghai. That will become obvious later in this blog.

In the U.S., The FAA has not always been appropriately aggressive over safety improvements at airports or in air travel in general. That is why, it seems very significant when the outgoing FAA chief, Marion Blakey, warns, as she did this week that it's imperative that Los Angeles International Airport move its north runways further apart for safety reasons.

Blakey was quoted in a story by Steve Hymon in the L.A. Times as saying: "Get the north airfield project done...It's an issue of safety and efficiency and economic competitiveness."

The trouble is, Los Angeles officials aren't listening. They have been dithering for years now over plans to expand LAX and make it safer. They have done some things, such as building a new taxiway between the south runways, but they have been delaying other plans, anathema in surrounding neighborhoods which have clout with elected representatives, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The most pertinent proposal at the moment is to move the north runways 300 feet further apart. But, of course, this would impinge, at least on the peace and quiet, of the adjacent neighborhood. No wonder, homeowners don't like it. But the question is, should homeowner concerns trump traveler safety?

There have already been several instances of near collisions between airliners, and one instance, back in 1991, of a fatal collision at LAX.

I would see nothing wrong with declaring LAX a secondary airport for international and transcontinental travel and moving most airport operations to Palmdale, where there is unlimited space. A high speed rail line could be built to get travelers to and from Palmdale.

But since this is not likely to be done in the near future, airport users deserve more than a sixth -- that's right a sixth -- study over what should be done.

Whenever politicians start asking for a sixth study, you know they don't have the courage to make up their minds, and proceed with a sound choice. So when Congresswoman Jane Harman, Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl and L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe call upon Villaraigosa in a letter, as they did this week, to ensure that all options are examined, what they really mean to ensure is more delay in doing anything.

This has been studied enough. The airport, crowded, poorly managed, even threatened by terrorism, needs to get off the dime and move toward the future.

The L.A. Times runs two other fascinating transportation stories today. On Page 1, there's an account by Mitchell Landsberg of the fast-expanding subway system in Shanghai, which is building the world's most extensive underground lines. The 80 miles today is supposed to reach 125 miles by the end of the year, 250 miles by 2010 and 560 miles by 2020, at which time it is projected to carry 14 million passengers a day.

Landsberg contrasts subways in Shanghai with those in Los Angeles, where subway expansion has been blocked by shortsighted officials unwilling to invest the money necessary. Shanghai officials have no such compunctions.

Then, there's a story in the Business section by Jane Engle on the security confusion and poor baggage handling that presently afflicts passengers at London's Heathrow Airport, which handles 67 milion passengers a year. At least, a new $8.6 billion terminal will soon open, relieving matters.

In Los Angeles, no such luck. Neither in the airport nor in the subway system is anything being built.


Tim Rutten mentions in his weekly column in the L.A. Times Calendar section today that the New York Times ran an Op Ed page article last Sunday by seven soldiers and noncommissioned officers serving with the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq calling for an American withdrawal, but then refused to run a reply written by seven Army and Marine Corps veterans of the war which said that a new American strategy in Iraq is working and will ensure that those who died in the war would not do so in vain. The reply was posted anyway on the Web site of the Weekly Standard, a conservative publication.

In many respects now, the New York Times is not providing fair coverage of the war issues. This is particularly true on the editorial pages, where the editors are falling all over themselves pleading for America to surrender to the enemy.

Since my New York Times subscription is costing me seven times more than the L.A. Times, I wish it was at least providing fair coverage. But, on this, and the developing presidential campaign, I don't think it is. The paper has an agenda which is all too apparent.


Friday, August 24, 2007

Maliki, Duplicitous, Murderously Sectarian Must Go

The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, may be even more dangerous to both U.S. interests and a viable Iraq than the somber U.S. intelligence analysis released on Thursday makes him out to be.

That Maliki is duplicitous, an incompetent and an ally of Shiite militias that have been, just as Al-Qaeda and others, instrumental in propagating ethnic cleansing and sectarian violence in Iraq has long been clear. It was probably a mistake for President Bush not to dump him long ago, and seek a better government, more under U.S. guidance.

Now, we shouldn't wait.

In the last two weeks, Maliki has gone to both Iran and Syria and clasped to his bosom the thugs who dominate both countries. He held hands in Tehran with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and then he went to Syria, where he pandered to Bashir Assad, and publicly suggested that if the U.S. was going to be critical of him, he could find friends "elsewhere."

This makes it clear that Maliki is on the brink of publicly joining with forces in the Middle Eastern who are antithetical to American interests in an increasingly foreboding situation. If our long, costly effort in Iraq is not to end in failure, we can go no further with him.

Unfortunately, for the Bush Administration, these inescapable conclusions come at a time when many Americans are fed up with the war and everything that has gone along with it. Many Americans would like to give it up as a bad cause and get out. And yet, at the same time, the "surge" of U.S. forces in recent months, has improved the situation in Iraq from a strictly military point of view. There are reports in the New York Times, of all newspapers, this weekend that even some Democratic members of Congress visiting Iraq recently have been impressed by the military progress.

Leaving now would probably lead us into a worse situation than we are in already. It is intolerable to think of the consequences of a precipitate American withdrawal from Iraq -- a perceived victory for Al Qaeda, a turning of the sectarian conflict between Shiites and Sunnis into outright genocide, and, elsewhere in the Middle East including oil rich Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, a destabilization fatal to U.S. and Western interests.

Considerable attention is being paid today to the call yesterday by Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) to initiate a limited withdrawal of some of the U.S. forces in Iraq at present, to, as he puts it, send the Iraqis a message that the American commitment is not open-ended.

This has to be debated in Washington. But it could well be that even a small U.S. retreat at this stage would precipitate a downward spiral in the Middle East that would soon go beyond our control. (Editorials, such as the one in the L.A. Times Sunday calling for peace talks with United Nations help, are starring-eyed in the extreme. There is no one to talk peace with, and, if there were, the UN would be as utterly useless here as it has been nearly everywhere else).

No one, however, can really quarrel with one conclusion drawn by Warner and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), after a visit to Iraq last week: Our relationship with Maliki has reached a dead end.

We just can't wait at this stage. Maliki must go, and be replaced with someone who will follow our lead in seeking to bring the main factions in Iraq, the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, toward reconciliation. Otherwise, tomorrow will be worse than today, and today is bad enough.

Getting rid of him may not be easy, smooth or democratic, but at this point it is our best, and even most honorable, option.


There is no more contemptible crime in our democracy than assassination, and I've always felt assassins, or would-be assassins, should receive the maximum penalty allowed under law, that at the very least they should never be released. So I'm sorry to hear that Arthur Bremer, would-be assassin of Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace when he was running for President in 1972, is due soon to be released from prison in the state of Maryland.

Regardless of how we felt about Wallace, he did not deserve to be paralyzed for life by the act of this psychotic man. And, while there may be only a slight danger, the danger that others, seeing Bremer walk free, even after 35 years, may be tempted to become copycats and try to commit other assassinations is present.

The crime of assassination is a crime against every voter in the United States. According to a Baltimore Sun story today, Bremer in his diaries described the motive of his assassination was to give him fame similar to the assassins of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King. This is an offense that should not be forgiven.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Signs Of GOP Trickery In The 2008 Election

I remarked in a blog the other day that a Giuliani-Clinton final in the 2008 presidential race would be a "bruising, no-quarters barred campaign" which could end in a presidency even more controversial than George W. Bush's.

But this could be the result even with other candidates, if a Republican trick, now being conjured up in California, comes to fruition. This is the proposed ballot measure that would apportion the state's 55 electoral votes on a basis of who won each congressional district, plus two to the overall winner of the state.

If California did this, and other states did not, it could tip the election to the Republican candidate, even though he got far fewer popular votes nationwide than the Democrat. This would not be "Californians For Equal Representation," the fraudulent name of the proposal, but a way to ruin American democracy.

Yes, I know Mr. Bush got elected in 2000, because he won more electoral votes (thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Florida recount case) than Democrat Al Gore, even though he got fewer popular votes. But that result was accepted in most of the country, because at least it was consistent with the winner-take-all state-by-state electoral vote system we have had historically. Other presidents had previously been elected with a minority of the popular vote.

What is worse about the GOP proposal in California is that it would skew the battleground, install a different system for different states and throw at least 20 California electoral votes to the losing Republican candidate in the state (assuming, as is generally expected, the Democrats carry California). That would be enough to tip the election and, if it happened, the whole country would feel it was desperately unfair.

Another part of the trickery being attempted in California is that such a ballot measure would probably be placed on the June primary ballot. Since the main presidential primary vote has already been moved to Feb. 5, there will be damn few incentives to vote in the state in June, and a minority of Republicans who came to the polls might be enough to pass the measure in a light turnout.

A New York Times editorial Wednesday said this constitutes an attempt to "rig elections in a way that would make it difficult for a Democrat to be elected president," and I cannot but agree.
Presumably, the Democrats would try to defeat it by encouraging their voters to come out in the otherwise meaningless June primary, but, if that did not suffice, the whole mess would have to be taken to court, possibly further clouding the election.

The country cannot and should not live with this. The Republicans should back off, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the numb skull who just opted for cutting back transportation funds in the state budget, should make it plain he will veto such a measure. The trouble is, we cannot count on the governor to be honest, he has been demonstrating that he is a shady character now for some time.

So this is one possible Republican trick that threatens the 2008 election. But it is not the only one.

I see in the same day's New York Times that former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, who has not yet formally launched his presidential candidacy, is nonetheless, even before he gets in, attacking former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for backing gun control.

With all the crime in big cities, I can't imagine a New York mayor who wouldn't. The same day the Thompson attack story emerged, there was another gruesome crime story in Los Angeles, the murder without reason of a brother and sister while playing in their own South Los Angeles backyard, the shooters unknown.

Thompson, I'm beginning to believe, is a scoundrel of the Richard Nixon variety, ready to adopt any sleazy issue so as to throw mud on his opponent. He has been often called a respectable conservative alternative to Giuliani, Giuliani being a more moderate Republican on domestic issues. But there is a smell about Thompson's stand against gun control that won't easily go away.

On the Democratic side, for now at least, we have a fairer campaign.

But, frankly, I'm worried. It now appears that in the natural order of things, a Democrat may be elected next year, due to the unpopularity of the Iraq war and many other questions about the competency of the Bush Administration. If the Republicans feel they can only win with skulduggery, we really are in for a nasty election, and the results may not be consistent with a true democracy.


Teresa Watanabe has a good story in today's L.A. Times about how Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, an important Jewish organization, has walked into a political cesspool, saying there was an Armenian genocide during World War I, but that he won't back the U.S. Congress saying so, on account of Turkish sensibilities.

Foxman, and others, can't have it both ways. France has been more honest by recognizing the genocide for the fact it was. The Turks are going to have to recognize and suitably atone for their own past actions, just as the Germans commendably have done with the World War II holocaust.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Zell Reassured Los Angeles Elite With Blunt Talk

Los Angeles is the nation's second largest city and is known throughout the world as one of the most distinctive places on the planet. So, naturally, it has been tough on the city to lose control over its newspaper, and to feel that the new owners, in Chicago, didn't care a great deal whether the newspaper was any good or not.

Now, with the advent of Sam Zell, as prospective new owner of the Tribune Co., there is a chance that the relationship with the owners can change. That possibility is what brought the city's elite to the Los Angeles Times last Thursday to meet Zell, who was also here to address L.A. Times managers.

Generally speaking, from what Manatt, Phelps law partner George Kieffer, chair of the two-year-old Civic Alliance, had to say about last Thursday's meeting, it can be concluded that it went well, that Zell made a good impression, and that he seemed sincere when he said he was "leaning" toward giving the Times more autonomy within Tribune operations.

Another member of the Alliance who attended the meeting remarked afterward, "(Now), we all have our fingers crossed."

Zell, who is about to turn 66, is listed by Forbes magazine as the 52nd richest man in America. Born in Chicago the son of Polish Jewish immigrants who had fled Hitler in 1939, he made his fortune in real estate, often taking what appeared to be bad investment choices that turned out gloriously. His political and charitable contribution record leans Republican. Zell has given to both Rudolph Giuliani and John McCain, and he contributed last year to the reelection of Sen. Joseph Lieberman in Connecticut against an antiwar candidate. But he has also given to many Democrats, including such liberals as Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin. He has further been a generous contributor to educational institutions both in the U.S. and Israel. Programs in his name are proceeding at the University of Michigan, the Wharton school at the University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern University and in Caesarea in Israel. He owns a house in Malibu, where he spends considerable time away from his home in Chicago.

As he proved again in his meetings here on Thursday, Zell is informal and direct, as you would expect from someone who has had so much success in life. He greatly impressed members of the Times staff Thursday by using the F-word three times, and was gently cautioned on his language by one of the members of the more staid Civic Alliance. Zell was dressed in jeans for both meetings, and remarked at one point that he could have worn a suit, "but that wouldn't be me."

The group of 22 business, professional and organizational leaders who met with Zell for an hour and 45 minutes in the board room at the Times building is composed of the city's talented elite. Those present included a former U.S. Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, the chairman of th e Los Angeles Police Commission, John Mack, the publishers of two news organizations, the Spanish-language La Opinion and the Los Angeles Business Journal, the two highest officials from the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, the heads of black, Latino, Japanese, Asian and Pacific islander associations, the head of Los Angeles' United Way. and the CEOs of Cedars-Sinai hospital and the City National Bank. The group meets monthly to discuss issues of moment, such as transportation, crime, disaster preparedness, media performance and so on.

This was the group that wrote to Tribune Co. CEO Dennis FitzSimons last fall appealing to him to either support the L.A. Times with enough resources for it to continue to be one of the nation's leading newspapers, or to consider selling it. In short then, this is a group of citizens proud to be Los Angelenos and prepared to stand up for the city. Recently, among its meetings, Kieffer said, was one with three managers of leading local television stations, to whom they appealed for more extensive coverage of local news.

Zell, asked at one point about Los Angeles citizen criticism of the Times in its present state, replied that it seemed to him that L.A. was harder on its newspaper than the residents of many other cities.

Zell was accompanied to the meeting by Times publisher David Hiller and editor James O'Shea, managers sent to L.A. from Chicago last November after two independent-minded publishers, John Puerner and Jeffrey Johnson, and two editors, John Carroll and Dean Baquet, had been forced out for resisting cost cutbacks at the Times advanced by FitzSimons and other Tribune executives.

According to Kieffer, Zell put considerable emphasis during the meeting on exploring whether the Tribune Co., which owns many newspapers and television stations across the country, as well as the Chicago Cubs, is a " single corporation" or a "conglomerate."

He said he leans toward believing it is a conglomerate, and that if this is so, the various major properties should have considerable autonomy to decide their own policies rather than always knuckle under to Chicago. (Of course, this was an argument advanced by Baquet, now the Washington bureau chief of the New York Times, before he was fired by Hiller last November).

For instance, Kieffer said, when members of the Civic Alliance made a point during last week's meeting of questioning whether advertising should be placed on Page 1 of the Times, Zell said he might well be inclined not to make that decision himself, but to leave it to Hiller. He also said that if ads are not going to be placed, perhaps Hiller could come up with alternative ideas for a needed revenue stream, at a time when newspapers across the country have suffered advertising declines.

(Hiller, I should add, seemed to be going along with overall Tribune policy when he first broached the plan for putting ads on Page 1. The idea was advanced at other Tribune newspapers virtually the same day and appeared to be generated from Chicago. At the Times, the idea has encountered broad resistance, with even the editor, Shea, vehemently opposed, as well as many senior members of the Times staff and ordinary subscribers. So far, no such ads have appeared).

Toward the end of the meeting, when someone questioned how members of the Civic Alliance could give Zell support, Zell responded bluntly, in so many words, that he was not asking for the group's support, but its neutrality, while it watches what he as the Tribune's new owner, actually does, as compared to what he might say.

I asked a retired Times editor what he thought of that. "Zell is telling them, he's going to run the show," was this editor's interpretation.

But, perhaps, after years of poor direction by FitzSimons and other Tribune managers, which seem to have only spun the company only into more debt and poorer business condition, even while diminishing the quality of the Times, that is what even the Los Angeles elite would desire.


Bill Dwyre, the former Times sports writer who now writes a sports column, had a powerful one in Tuesday's newspaper, suggesting in the strongest terms that National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell take very tough disciplinary action against Michael Vick, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback, for organizing dog fights, treating the dogs brutally, gambling and other offenses.

Dwyre has always been outspoken against gambling and a strong upholder of quality in sports. It's good to see, he's not lost his edge on these vital issues.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Zell Vowed To Times Managers, Deal Remains On

A feisty Sam Zell, occasionally using expletives and conveying the idea he intends to take charge of the Tribune Co. in no uncertain terms, told L.A. Times managers last week that he is determined to go through with his agreement last spring to buy the company.

When asked about the advertising and revenue fall that have ensued since he made the offer, Zell declared, according to someone who was there, that the Tribune papers have really not had an owner now for months, and that when he takes over, he will roll up his sleeves and go to work. He indicated his first steps would resound through the company.

As to whether the present management will continue, specifically as to whether the present CEO, Dennis FitzSimons, wanted to stay on, Zell responded along the lines of what the hell of a difference does that make, according to a source.

As the L.A. Times, the New York Times and even an AP business writer have said this week, there are still obstacles to be overcome, if the Zell purchase is to be consummated. First, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) must approve the deal, agreeing to waive the prohibition against a company owning major newspaper and television outlets in the same city, as the Tribune does presently with the Times and Channel Five in Los Angeles. Second, as the New York Times reported Monday, there must be an independent solvency analysis of Tribune before the deal can be finalized.

A lesser obstacle was cleared Tuesday when Tribune stockholders approved the deal by a vote of 97%. This had been fully expected since under the terms of the deal, Tribune stock still outstanding would be purchased for a hefty premium (about $7 above Monday's closing price). That closing price of $27.02 yesterday was a sharp advance over last week's trading, when Tribune stock had gone for as little as $24.45 a share, and the stock rose again today. Since it seems clear the stock price would collapse were the Zell deal not go through, the rise this week reflects increasing confidence by stockholders that Zell's plan to take the company private with a $34 stock purchase is on track.

FitzSimons told the stockholders meeting that the terms of the deal have been okayed with four major banks that would help finance it, and he insisted that the terms of the deal fully protect existing employee pensions.

On the same day that he met with Times managers, Zell also met at the Times with members of a group of more than 20 prominent Los Angeles business, professional and organizational leaders, representing all of the city's major ethnic groups, who had written to FitzSimons last fall expressing concern about how Tribune management was running affairs at the Los Angeles Times, and specifically about all the cutbacks it had made there. The Los Angeles elite had suggested that if Tribune was not able to run the newspaper successfully, it ought to sell it.

Among those attending this other session, about an hour and 45 minutes long, were former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Annenberg Center dean Geoffrey Cowan, attorney George Kieffer, Police Commission chairman John Mack, Latino leader Edward Avila, and former mayoral candidate Steven Soboroff, among many others. Tuesday afternoon, Kieffer, who chairs the group, the two-year-old Civic Alliance, called the meeting "constructive" and described what was said there. Besides Zell, L.A. Times publisher David Hiller and Times editor James O'Shea also were present at this meeting. MORE about this meeting in tomorrow's blog.

Things perhaps did not go quite so smoothly at the Times management meeting and just afterwards. Besides his management thoughts, Zell was challenged on the announced plan to start running advertising on Page 1 at the Times. Someone wanted to know whether Zell would be pleased were someone to build a ramshackle building next to his Malibu house.

Zell reportedly responded that how he would feel would depend on the quality of the neighboring house, and he suggested that front page ads would be acceptable if they were in good taste, as he said, they would be. (There are reports that the Times has rejected some early proposals for the front page ads).

Asked how he felt about the Times these days, Zell said he liked the sports section, which he said he reads first, but he was critical of the business section. and he called the rest of the paper bland. He remarked he doesn't like either the New York Times or Los Angeles Times business sections. However, Zell conditioned all such remarks with renewed assurances he is not a journalist and would not give direct orders as to how all these sections should be run.

Altogether, Times managers were said to be fairly impressed with Zell, and came out of the meeting somewhat more hopeful, although doubts about the deal's consummation will persist among some until it is final.

The Zell meetings took place last Thursday, one day before the Federal Reserve Board reduced the discount rate in a move directed at bolstering the credit markets in the wake of the sub-prime mortgage collapse. So they came at a low point of last week's financial troubles.


That Zell has his work cut out for him, is made even clearer with word today that the L.A. Times Washington bureau has lost its investigations editor, Marilyn Thompson, after only 14 months on the job. Thompson is going to join Dean Baquet's Washington bureau of the New York Times.

Doyle McManus, the LAT Washington bureau chief, said in a memo that he would launch a nationwide search for a new investigations editor promptly, and asked for any recommendations. Baquet said in his own memo, " terrific it is that the New York Times continues to build its staff at what is obviously a rugged time in the newspaper business."

Thompson is the second major investigations editor to leave the Times in recent months. The other was Vernon Loeb, who had been located in Los Angeles.


Monday, August 20, 2007

Shocking Statistics in LAT Sunday From Jill Leovy

The crime statistics conveyed by Jill Leovy, the L.A. Times' admirable reporter on the Los Angeles police and crime in the minority communities, in Sunday's newspaper were indeed shocking.

In terms of homicides this year, the toll in the black and brown communities is dramatically greater than it is in the white ones. There is three times more danger of getting killed in the Hispanic areas as the white, and nine times greater chance in the black ones compared to the white ones.

The Leovy articles were accompanied by a map showing where the homicides have been taking place. Even though the overall number throughout the city has been going down, from 2,113 in 1992 to 1,085 in 2006, still the varying rates among racial groups are depressing. According to the statistics gathered by the Times for 2007 thus far, 34 of every 100,000 blacks have been the victims of homicides this year, compared to 11 for Latinos, just 3.2 for whites and 2.7 for Asians.

Most of the killings are happening to young people. As Leovy remarks, the chances of getting to 18 without being killed are so great in the minority communities that residents are using expressions like "caught slippin" or having "passed," to describe those killed or escaping being killed.

Also, as sidebars, Leovy told three specific, heartbreaking stories about young people who have died recently in the homicidal mayhem.

This is not the first time Leovy has told such stories. But they seldom make Page 1 of the L.A. Times, where they certainly belong, and they did not Sunday, although they were prominently displayed in the California section.

One wonders how many readers are paying attention. It often seems like minority crime stories are like water off a duck's back. They occur without the duck noticing.

You'd think, after all this time, that Los Angelenos would be trying harder to stem the carnage -- with more gun control laws if nothing else.

Yet the bloodletting goes on and the losses remain, as always, tragic.


The L.A. Times has a long and well-reasoned editorial this morning raising questions about the ethanol craze, and specifically about its down side. There are other means, the editorial says, to fight global warming.

But one of the best ways is nuclear power development, and the Times recently opposed that, in an editorial.

The Times editors, no more than society, cannot have it both ways. If we want to effectively stem global warming, we are going to have to accept nuclear power, taking the necessary steps, of course, to keep it as safe as possible.


Both the New York Times and L.A. Times have stories today raising questions whether Sam Zell's purchase of Tribune Co. will go through. I'll have more on this tomorrow. But since Wall Street analysts are saying it may not, and they've been wrong about everything else this summer, maybe that's a sign it will.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Memories Of Michael Deaver, A Loyal Aide

Like Earl Warren, Michael Deaver grew up in Bakersfield in a lower middle class family, and like the great Chief Justice, he never lost his love for California. Warren, who like Deaver lived his last years in Washington, D.C., cited a Kipling poem about the Golden State on his death bed. Deaver, dying of pancreatic cancer, took a last trip to Lake Tahoe just before he died.

Both men had a gift for providing great visuals. Deaver conceived the pictures of President Reagan in Berlin, unforgettably saying, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," and speaking on top of Pointe-du-Hoc in Normandy, commemorating the brave Army rangers who scaled those heights against Nazi defenders on D-Day. Warren, for his part, appeared with Pat Brown in a memorable picture showing the two duck-hunting in 1962, a picture which helped Brown overcome the challenge of old Warren enemy Richard Nixon in that year's gubernatorial election.

Of course, Deaver could not compare to Warren in stature. But, still, as the loyal aide who worked assiduously to make Reagan a successful governor of California and then President of the United States, and then gave President Reagan the benefit of his candid opinions, Deaver was an important figure.

We cannot underestimate the value of loyal aides who put the careers of the leaders they work for above everything else. Without Louis Howe, Franklin D. Roosevelt might never have been President. Without his brother, Robert, John Kennedy might never have made it to the White House either. And without Deaver, Reagan would not have been the subtle, skillful President he turned out to be. Often, Deaver's advice to Reagan was more moderate than other aides, such as Ed Meese, gave him. And, Reagan, to his credit, knew when to listen.

It was ultimately a more valuable relationship than Jimmy Carter had with his two closest longtime aides, Jody Powell and Hamilton Jordan, when he got to the White House. Powell and Jordan were too limited. Deaver grew with his responsibilities and was a more savvy figure.

Deaver, who died Saturday at the age of 69, was also famously close to Nancy Reagan, the President's frequently underestimated wife. On Deaver's death, Mrs. Reagan, quoted in Johanna Neuman and David Willman's lengthy obituary in today's L.A. Times, reflected on their relationship: "Mike was the closest of friends to both Ronnie and me in many ways, and he was like a son to Ronnie. Our lives were so blessed by his love and friendship over 40 years. We met great challenges together, not just in Sacramento, during Ronnie's years as governor, but certainly during our time at the White House. I will miss Mike terribly."

The strange thing is, so will some of the reporters who knew Deaver over the years. I happened to be talking yesterday afternoon over the phone to Howell Raines, former Washington bureau chief and executive editor of the New York Times. He expressed his respect for Deaver and remarked that his death had come as bad news. As a political writer for the L.A. Times, I too had respect for Deaver, and, at a time when I occasionally did "insider" stories quoting politicians and their aides anonymously as to how political races were going, Deaver -- like Jesse Unruh, Ken Cory and former GOP California state chairman Paul Haerle -- was one of my favorite sources. The sources gave me their honest opinions, and they weren't as partisan as one might expect.

I notice that Lou Cannon, the former Washington Post political reporter and Reagan biographer, is quoted in the Neuman-Willman obituary today assessing Deaver as "curiously an underrated figure. Lots of people can do backdrops. Deaver was one of the few advisors who Ronald Reagan emotionally cared about."

That feeling obviously survived some of Deaver's shortcomings, his periodic alcoholism and his legal troubles after he left the White House as an overweening Washington lobbyist.

The underlying consideration here was that Deaver, no matter what, was always loyal, and Reagan knew it.

Deaver remarked modestly in a 2001 L.A. Times interview that all he had done was arrange photo ops. "I didn't make Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan made me."

That is not quite accurate. Without Michael Deaver, Reagan would not have been the successful governor and President he was.


Saturday, August 18, 2007

Giuliani, Not Hillary, Would Be Most Divisive

It's becoming fairly obvious, I think, that if he is nominated, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani will be an unusually divisive (or controversial might be a better word) finalist as a Presidential candidate, just like Sen. Robert Kennedy would have been in 1968, had he not been assassinated.

Hillary Clinton is controversial too, but, since she is carefully hewing to a middle-of-the-road, establishment course, she would not be as divisive a Democratic nominee as Giuliani would be a Republican.

For one thing, Giuliani is coming across as absolutely truculent on foreign affairs, the War on Terror, relations with Iran and so forth, quite a bit more so than President Bush. He is strident day after day on how he would conduct the nation's foreign policy, and the reaction on the Democratic left to his nomination would be fierce. Whether, however, this would be a productive tack for him in a fall campaign, has yet to be seen, depending on developments in the war.

We already see how concerned the New York Times is about Giuliani's candidacy. The NYT has lost all sense of dignity, going after him a couple of times a week in the news columns on everything from his record after 9-11 to his family life. (The Times has forgotten Somini Sengupta's article in 2001 on how popular Giuliani and New York firefighters had suddenly become after 9-11 in the black and Hispanic communities of New York. He was not liked in those communities during most of his tenure, but he certainly was then, and the New York Times attempt to denigrate his conduct after 9-11 is like trying to dishonor Churchill and de Gaulle for their conduct in June of 1940. It won't wash).

If this is what the NYT is like in its news "reports," one can only imagine how apoplectic the Times editorial pages would be, if Giuliani won the GOP nomination. I would suggest that Andrew Rosenthal, the NYT editorial page editor, and Bill Keller, the executive editor, take anti-stroke medicine when the campaign begins.

Howell Raines would have had more of a sense of proportion about this, if he were still executive editor.

On the other side, we can already see that the Fox News Network is devoted to a Giuliani candidacy, in part because of the friendship between Giuliani and Fox executive Roger Ailes, but also in large part because of the profound ideological consistency between Fox News and the former New York mayor. In an outstanding Aug. 2 article by Ross Buettner, the New York Times detailed quantitatively just how much Giuliani has been appearing in Fox news interviews, compared to the other leading candidates at this point.

The chart accompanying the article showed that through July 15 of this year, Giuliani had appeared in 115 news interviews on Fox, while Hillary had appeared on just 16, John McCain on 59, Mitt Romney on 91 and Fred Thompson on 101. Other Democratic candidates fared about the same or even worse than Hillary. Bill Richardson and Christopher Dodd both appeared 17 times, while John Edwards appeared 6 and Sens. Joseph Biden and Barack Obama not at all.

So much for Fox fairness, which we have known for a long time doesn't exist (although some Democrats, I believe foolishly, have been involved in what is tantamount to a boycott of Fox). But the point here is that this one-sidedness would certainly become a campaign issue in the fall. Clinton would make it one.

Giuliani's effusive personality, the natural comparison that would be made in many circles between him and his fellow-Italian-Americans who are members of the U.S. Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito, his unorthodox (for a Republican) positions on such issues as abortion, gay rights and gun control, all of these are highly combustible material. They make a Giuliani candidacy complex, since he is so hawkish on foreign affairs, while more moderate on domestic ones.

Another fact is, it is important for Hillary Clinton to show herself to be tough, not easily bowled over because she is a woman. Already, in her campaign against Obama, we see that Hillary is not loathe to dish it out. She would certainly go against Giuliani in an abrasive way, and he would certainly respond in kind. We may be looking forward to the angriest presidential election campaign in U.S. history, if you exclude Southern antipathy to Lincoln's candidacy.

Which opens the question whether a Giuliani-Clinton race might not encourage one or more third party candidacies. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg might look positively tame as an alternative to these two.

Will Giuliani be inclined to moderate, or even cut back on public aspects of his love life with his equally controversial mate, Judith Giuliani? Perhaps, but I doubt it.

No, if Giuliani and Hillary are the major party candidates, we are in for a bruising, no-quarters-barred campaign, and, whoever wins, a presidency even more controversial than George Bush's, which is saying something.


The L.A. Times anti-Google editorial Friday was amusing, and must certainly have been the idea of LAT "publisher" and toady to Chicago, David Hiller. But I'm not disturbed at all by it. I figure that in any argument between Google and Hiller, Google is certain to prevail. The editorial makes Hiller a laughing stock, but this isn't new.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Officials Fumbling Over L.A. Mass Transit Funding

The L.A. Times has been giving excellent coverage over many months now to the fumbling efforts on the part of city, county and state officials to obtain funding for and proceed with the mass transit projects that are now so desperately needed in the Los Angeles area.

So far, the officials, of whom we have many who are not up to their jobs, have fallen down almost completely at bringing together the wherewithal for these projects -- of which the Wilshire Blvd. subway to Santa Monica, the extension of light rail service to many more areas and the filling of the 710 freeway gap between East Los Angeles and Pasadena are the most important.

Just today, on the second page of the California section, Rong Gong Lin II has another of his fine articles on the transit situation quoting MTA chief executive Roger Snoble as saying that of $30 billion in projects envisioned through 2030, funding in terms of additional projected revenue stands at only $4 billion. Only two relatively small light rail projects are under construction now.

The article is accompanied by an intriguing -- but incomplete -- map. The map shows some of the projects discussed in a sidebar but not others. As such, it is woefully inaccurate. When I was working for the newspaper, we used to have a lot of trouble with the graphics department, which lost some of its ablest people and often made glaring mistakes. I will not soon forget the earthquake map that one day placed Los Angeles in Ventura County.

But the important thing this morning is that Lin has listed all the projects and given a good sketch of what transit in Los Angeles could be like, were funding found.

It is worth noting that just about three months of the Iraq war costs being incurred by the United States would suffice to do the whole job promptly. I've supported the war, but local priorities for a decent life in this country are important too.

The Lin article notes, in fact, that the state is going backward. It has already been described in the Times how the Schwarzenegger administration has diverted some of the money in a $19.9 billion state transportation bond issue adopted by the voters last year to other purposes. And now, as Lin points out, the state budget as passed by the Assembly, has cut $1.3 billion from mass transit projects (although that version of the budget has not yet been accepted in the State Senate).

No one has been covering himself with glory in the struggle against traffic congestion in the Los Angeles area. We cannot forget that the inept County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was responsible for a measure that prohibited the use of certain tax revenues to continue building subways. Yaroslavsky, and his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors, are just as ineffective at seeing to it that adequate transportation funds are provided as they have proved to be in reforming and keeping open the Martin Luther King Hospital in South Los Angeles.

It need scarcely be noted that Los Angeles is beginning to drown in its own traffic and that failure to do something about this problem may impede orderly growth and economic prosperity in this area in years and decades ahead.

What is clearly needed are officials who aggressively go after the proper funding needed for these projects. Yet in the Lin article this morning Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is quoted as saying that polling indicates voters would not support a tax increase for transportation projects. He suggests looking at congestion pricing or public-private partnerships to find it.

Congestion pricing is a horrible idea that would only engender continuing bitter controversy, and Orange County has shown that toll roads built privately are really not viable. Perhaps the polls the mayor refers to would change with aggressive campaigning by him and others, but it is also correct to ask why the electorate would want to vote more taxes for transportation when the bond issue has been diverted and delayed.

Maybe those who suggest that the mayor is so preoccupied with his personal life, he cannot proceed to be a full-time mayor, are being proven correct, although, for reasons stated earlier, I hate to see anyone's sex life, except for pedophilia or rape, held to be the public's business.

Still, someting has to be done. Why do we elect people to public office who will not work seriously at dealing with public problems? The easiest solution would be to raise the gasoline tax to adjust for inflation that has taken place since it was adopted in its present amount.

It really does seem rare these days to find officials who perform their duties skillfully and with integrity. That's why I was intrigued, while reading back issues of the paper after my recent trip, to find a profile of California Secretary of State Debra Bowen paying tribute to her for taking action to insure the sanctity of voting machines, protecting them against hackers even though there would be some expense in doing so.

Maybe Bowen should replace Villaraigosa as mayor, Schwarzenegger as governor or Snoble as head of the MTA. Maybe, she would be willing to do the job, no matter what job she was in.


The conviction yesterday of Jose Padilla by a federal jury in Miami on charges of aiding terrorist operations abroad is encouraging, and must be viewed as a victory for the Bush Administration. We see the victory confirmed in the grudging editorials in the New York Times this morning, and to a lesser extent in the L.A. Times.

The newspapers are too often blinded to the danger Islamic fundamentalism poses to the U.S. by their dislike of Mr. Bush. They should humbly think over their attitude again, and revise it as appropriate.

In the meantime, a possibly even more significant trial is proceeding in Dallas on federal charges that the Holy Land Foundation was, in fact, a Hamas front, sending charitable moneys collected in the U.S. to terrorists abroad. This trial, with the many difficult issues it raises, is getting extensive media attention, as indeed it should.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Yazidi Killings Show Demonic Muslim Fundamentalism

A grey-bearded old man living in Northern Iraq named Abu Saeed, who is quoted in a Reuters story this morning, understands more clearly what is going on in the terror bombings of poor Yazidi villagers than do the editorial writers of the L.A. Times.

Of the bombers who killed between 175 and 500 Yazidis this week (estimates vary), Saeed declares, "Their aim is to annihilate us, to create trouble and kill all the Yazidis because we are not Muslims."

This is an accurate characterization of the Islamic fundamentalists who against one group after another, have been extending their depredations through the Middle East. (The Islamic state of Iraq, an Al Qaeda front, distributed warning leaflets a week before the bombings declaring the Yazidis deserved it because they were "anti-Islamic)".

Contrast the old man's succinct and accurate view of what happened with the muddled lack of comprehension and unwillingness to assign responsibility where it belongs that we see in the lead L.A. Times editorial this morning.

"Identifying the killers by sect or affiliation does not help us comprehend the incomprehensible: What kind of nihilistic monsters see a benefit to murdering and maiming hundreds of innocent men, women?," the editorial asks. "No historic wrong, no ideological right, no religious calling could ever justify such crimes. Yet they do serve one purpose: to shatter trust and faith in human decency and so make reconciliation almost impossible.

"After nearly five years of war, we cannot accurately count the Iraqi dead...We do not know how many were killed by fellow Iraqis, by U.S. forces or by Al Qaeda zealots. Nor can we apportion responsibility for the deaths caused by the havoc unleashed by the U.S-led invasion."

Shame on the L.A. Times! Shame on it, if it is unwilling to identify the bombers this week as fundamentalist Muslims, and shame on it for being so confused that it does not know who is responsible for the carnage in Iraq - us or the enemy.

It is indeed shameful that these moral nihilists who write the Times editorials and all too many reports in American newspapers throughout the country are unwilling to confront the Nazi successors who for many years now have been engaged in terror attacks in the Middle East. Their weakness invites a further spread of the terror.

And one thing more is clear: The forces that bomb Yazidi villages, that kill innocent Kurds, that murder Roman Catholic priests in Turkey, that attack Christians in Gaza and Lebanon, that avow their intention to destroy the state of Israel, will not hesitate, if they ever obtain nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, from using them against American and other populations who live in the great cities of the West.

How dare the Los Angeles Times lump our gallant soldiers fighting in Iraq and other fronts of the War on Terror with the terrorists! No contempt is too great for these editorial writers who cannot distinguish good from evil.

It is not only the L.A. Times this very morning which falls into this moral abyss. There is a remarkably muddle-headed New York Times editorial on U.S.-Iranian relations which criticizes moves by the United States toward identifying the Iranian Revolutionary Guards for what they are -- terrorists.

This editorial begins, "The dangers posed by Iran are serious, and America needs to respond with serious policies, noit more theatrics. Labeling Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization -- as the State Department now proposes -- is another distraction when what the Bush Administration needs to be doing is opening comprehensive negotiations with Tehran, backed by increasing international economic pressure."

The fathers and grandfathers of the New York Times editorial writers did not propose negotiating with Hitler or Tojo. The present-day editorial writers though have continually proposed that we go to Iran hat-in-hand to beg them to stop attacking us, at a time when Iranian-made bombs are killing our soldiers in Iraq and when Iranian nuclear development threatens the whole world.

What we might recall are the words of Duff Cooper in the 1938 debate in the British House of Commons, on the Munich agreement: "The prime minister (Neville Chamberlain) has believed in addressing Herr Hitler through the language of sweet reasonableness. I have believed that he was more open to the language of the mailed fist."

The New York Times stands with Chamberlain, believing that we can temporize with present evil and use "the language of sweet reasonableness" with the enemy.

Thank God, at least for now, we have an Administration headed by President George W. Bush which is willing to defend America, even if sometimes he makes mistakes.

No wonder the confidence so many have had in our newspapers is vanishing, day by day. These newspapers are not worthy of the American people. They can, and must, do better.


I am, however, glad to see the L.A. Times' editorial critique this morning of the service mess at Los Angeles International Airport. The accurate subtitle of this editorial says, "Systems failure at the airport are symptoms of a dangerous pattern of neglect." Better late than never.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sam Zell To Speak At LAT In Period Of Crisis

Sam Zell, the Chicago real estate magnate and part time Malibu resident who has initiated a purchase of the Tribune Co., will appear tomorrow morning (Thursday, Aug. 16) in Los Angeles to speak to L.A. Times managers. His appearance comes at a time when the economic situation in the country is somber, credit is drying up, and some Wall Street analysts have said the purchase deal is in jeopardy.

Zell has a proven record of taking distressed properties and turning them around. But even if it is assumed that he would not have total control of Tribune Co. until the end of the year, it still must be said that in this instance he and other members of the Tribune board of directors have let the situation drift dangerously.

The Times and other Tribune newspapers have seen a near free fall in both advertising and total revenue this year. That nose dive, and doubts the Zell purchase will be consummated, have led to a sharp downturn in the price of Tribune Co. stock, as of this morning to nearly $10 below the $34-a-share price that Zell offered last spring to take the company private. It closed yesterday at $25.28 after trading as low as $24.45. Such a gap between that and the Zell offer explains why the analysts now doubt the deal will go through.

So far, Tribune management has vowed it will. But that management is part of the problem that Zell so far has failed to take steps to correct. It is a hare-brained management, under CEO Dennis FitzSimons, that has spun the company into ever greater debt while making cutbacks in content and staff at the Tribune newspapers that have so turned off readers and advertisers that both circulation and advertising have been in the nose dive.

Another problem is that FitzSimons' known antipathy to everything Californian has caused a crisis of confidence in the company in California. Californians do not like losers and, pending a possible improvement under Zell in the company's view of its California interests (the L.A. Times remains easily the largest of the Tribune-owned papers, and a better paper still than the lackluster Chicago Tribune), the view among many Times readers and other Californians is that the company is indeed a loser.

The fact that the third publisher and third editor Tribune has had in Los Angeles in the seven years since it bought Times-Mirror -- David Hiller and James O'Shea -- have allowed an impression to spread that they are simply Chicago toadies, has compounded the problems at the L.A. Times. Hiller has foolishly even said he will place ads on the Times' Page 1. At this point, only an ouster of these two and the appointment of true Californians as publisher and editor could aright matters. For the good of the Times, they must go, and quickly.

Whether Zell will say anything to Times managers Thursday morning that will be reassuring on any of these points is dubious. So far, like James Buchanan at the advent of Southern secession leading to the Civil War, he has let the situation worsen without taking any steps to ameliorate it.

But Zell is no Buchanan, based on his successful business record. Maybe, he will surprise us one day and take charge, hand present management its walking papers and install new management that will take the company out of its tail spin.

The Dow Jones publication, MarketWatch, this morning discusses the Tribune situation in mixed terms. Recording the stock price decline and doubts that the Zell purchase will go through, its article begins, "Tribune Co. shares were down nearly 5% at one point Tuesday, an apparent sign of mounting concern over the viability of a plan to take the media conglomerate private, but sources close to the deal say the proposed transaction remains intact."

Although MarketWatch quoted an unnamed source "with knowledge of the deal" as saying financing remains in place for the transaction worth $8.2 billion, the story went on to say, "Zell would not comment for this story, and Tribune representatives did not return phone calls."

At Tribune, this is par for the course. As bad tidings pile up, Tribune managers shut their mouths. They are like the proverbial monkeys that speak no evil, see no evil and hear no evil.

MarketWatch observes, "Tribune's recent second-quarter earnings report showed plummeting ad revenue, particularly at the Los Angeles Times, where circulation has taken a beating in recent years. In a dismal environment for the newspaper industry, even such notable companies as Dow Jones & Co. have been forced to reconsider their options...

"The Tribune deal, in particular, is a source of concern, since it hinges largely on the viability of an employee stock ownership plan that would assure a large amount of debt. Steeply declining ad revenue could potentially push that debt burden to its breaking point."

Not to mention leaving the employees' 401.ks in dire straits.

If Zell fails, there still may be an opportunity to sell the Times to Los Angeles moguls, such as Eli Broad, Ron Burkle or David Geffen. Unfortunately, however, the paper is worth far less today than it was last year, when such a deal was highly possible, and actual bids were made, only to be declined by the Chicago-dominated Tribune board.

Zell will speak today at a time of an intensifying mortgage crisis that has seen vaunted hedge funds collapse, the Federal Reserve board seem toothless and the entire stock market shoot downward. Just this morning, the L.A. Times Business section leads with a story that home sales in Southern California are down 27% and a second story reports that the nation's largest mortgage lender, Countrywide Financial, is saying that foreclosures and delinquencies have reached a five-year high. The New York Times, meanwhile, reports that even money market mutual funds have come under pressure.

Whether Zell can do anything today to restore confidence is a great question, although no doubt he would create a good impression if he fired Hiller on the spot.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

LAT Weak In Reporting LAX Computer Foul-Up

The story by Ted Rohrlich and Tami Abdollah in this morning's Los Angeles Times on the computer "glitch" in the Customs operation at Los Angeles International Airport Sunday that stranded 17,000 arriving passengers for hours, many of them on their airplanes, was weak and oriented more toward bureaucratic explanations than the experiences of the afflicted passengers.

The L.A. Times played the story on the front page both Monday and today with the prominence it deserved, but there is precious little in either story from the passengers who were the victims, once again, of the general incompetence that often pervades LAX operations.

Also, it took the L.A. Times two days to learn just how many passengers were stranded in the episode. Monday's initial story says 6,000. The 17,000 figure took a day to surface. But I wonder whether the depleted L.A. Times staff, afflicted by buyouts and cost cutbacks, actually sent many reporters to the airport to find out firsthand what was going on and interview the passengers when they finally got off their planes. There is little evidence the paper did. The story that ran Monday had not been updated late in the evening as more information became available, (as the Times did, by the way, in its recent brushfire stories).

By contrast, the New York Times air travel columnist, Joe Sharkey, reporting this morning on an incident involving a diverted international Continental flight stranded for five hours on the tarmac at Baltimore is filled with the passengers' accounts of what happened, and the frequently surly response of both airline and airport officials.

Airline service this summer has, by many accounts, been absolutely terrible, as an overcrowded system leads to intolerable delays, and the airlines' unwillingness to serve food on most flights leaves passengers, when they are kept cooped up on planes for hours, without anything more than pretzels to eat.

At LAX, the problem was an ill-diagnosed computer problem with sensitive information needed by Customs to keep terrorists out of the United States unavailable, and, to their credit, LAX officials saw to it that many of the airplanes were refueled and provided with food, so that they could keep air conditioning going and the passengers fed.

The Rohrlich-Abdollah story this morning does raise questions about the lack of timeliness of response, by the Sprint Nextel company, to the computer problems, and implicitly questions why more incoming airliners weren't diverted to other airports where there were no computer problems.

But the whole tone of the story is more concerned with bureaucracy and its excuses than about what might have been done differently as far as passenger treatment was concerned.

The L.A. Times editorial page does run two letters this morning from irate readers complaining about how matters at LAX were handled. But this would have also been an appropriate subject for an actual editorial. As usual, the Times editorial pages, supervised by the Chicago Tribune lackey David Hiller, were slow and inadequate in their response.

As the air travel problems have increased this year, the L.A. Times has been very quiet about them. Just this week, the Times introduced a new consumer columnist, David Lazarus, but his first column was quite mundane, on the safe subject of identity theft.

We'll see if Lazarus writes about LAX and the airline industry's problems in his next column.

As a consumer columnist for the Times for three years, (1998-2001), I found quite a bit of resistance in some quarters (but not by my editor, Tim Rutten) to columns that took on business interests and bureaucratic systems. Finally, the column was canceled by Tribune's new editors at the Times, John Carroll and Miriam Pawel. They didn't have the stomach for tough consumer coverage.

Long before Tribune took control, other Times consumer writers, such as Susan Diamond, found themselves in trouble when they tried to write honest, if abrasive, columns.

The Times remains quick to take on the beleaguered L.A. Police and Sheriff's departments, and to assail public officials for their sexual affairs or living outside their districts. It is far less willing to deal with the inadequacies and screwups by private entities. And it is weak, as the Rohrlich-Abdollah story was this morning, when it comes to giving consumers a chance to vent their spleen in such stories.

The readers of the L.A. Times, need it be said, are mostly consumers, not officials.


The L.A. Times has begun reporting more comprehensively, on Page 1 as well as in the Business section, on the failures of various financial institutions to control the mortgage crisis. However, with the exception of Tom Petruno's articles, it is not coming up to the very extensive New York Times coverage. There is now an estimate out there that 1.7 million of the 3.5 million sub-prime mortgages will go into default. This, it is clear, would create a severe fall in housing prices and a further drying up of investments financing loans of many types. The coverage must
be massive, on a daily basis.