Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hillary Plays It Safe In Debate, And Hurts Herself

There came a moment in last night's Democratic debate of presidential candidates in Philadelphia where it seemed that Sen. Hillary Clinton lost her poise, appeared to reverse a position she had taken just seconds before, and opened herself to charges from her opponents, Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards, that she was obfuscating.

It was mentioned high in both the New York Times and Washington Post stories this morning, as recorded on the Web sites (but the debate was too late to make it into the New York Times national edition, as published here in California). It got only brief notice way down in the story written by the Los Angeles Times reporters, Mark Barabak and Peter Nicholas.

But I felt it was a most significant moment, and it came on an issue related to illegal immigration on which Clinton could be vulnerable if she is the Democratic nominee. It seems highly likely immigration will be a Republican issue in 2008, and it has already become one in the Iowa Democratic caucuses.

The matter concerned New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and his on-again, off-again support of issuing drivers licenses to illegal immigrants in that state. Spitzer, facing resistance, has recently backed off that position himself. But Clinton spoke of it as an operative proposal, and at first indicated that to her it made sense, only to back off seconds later and maintain she had no position on it. Clinton used the term "undocumented," so loved by immigration advocates as a term for people in this country illegally. (Wednesday, Clinton shifted position again, now coming out in favor of Spitzer's efforts. A New York Times story posted Wednesday afternoon said Clinton's own people thought the New York senator was tense and listless in the debate).

Both Edwards and Obama in the debate accused Clinton of wanting to have two positions at once, with Obama saying,, "What we've had seven years is double talk from Bush and Cheney, and I think
America deserves us to be straight."

Washington Post reporters Anne Kornblut and Dan Balz called this the "most telling exchange" of the debate, and I agree.

The reason is that it shows a Clinton determined to say nothing that would stamp her with a definite position on a controversial issue. Assuming, from the polls, that she is ahead in the contest for the Democratic nomination, she seems willing to sit on her lead.

But this made her look phony, as she did also when moderator Tim Russert challenged her on conflicting statements she had made in Iowa and elsewhere on taxing the social security benefits of the wealthy.

Clinton looked slippery last night, which in the long run will probably not be to her advantage.

Parenthetically, in yesterday's New York Times, Katherine Seelye had a short item noting that of 11 active Democratic races for the nomination since 1952, "only five of the candidates who were leading the national polls in January won the nominations. "

These were Adlai E. Stevenson in 1956, John F. Kennedy in 1960, Walter F. Mondale in 1984, Bill Clinton in 1992 and Al Gore in 1960. The poll front-runners who did not win the nomination included Estes Kefauver in 1952, Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968, Edmund S. Muskie in 1972, Edward M. Kennedy in 1976 and Jesse Jackson and Gary Hart in 1988.

This is a statistic that must confound those (including myself) who have virtually awarded the nomination to Clinton in various recent commentaries.

For once, after watching last night's debate, it struck me that either Obama or Edwards might rise against Clinton and, conceivably, defeat her in the Iowa caucuses. That could, of course, have an effect on momentum in the primary contests that will follow the Jan. 3 Iowa event.


Reading back issues of the L.A. Times after my recent trip, I came on the new Thursday "Guide" section, and was not impressed. I had thought that Times publisher David Hiller promised to improve the TV listings in the paper, following his decision to scrap the weekly TV Guide, and that this would be done in Guide. However, unchanged TV listings actually remain in Calendar, and Guide is a glitzy celebrity-oriented section like the ill-begotten Image. Hiller and his Chicago Tribune overlords seem to think Los Angeles readers are mainly focused on celebrities, when I do not think that is the case.

The one improvement is that the Thursday Calendar section no longer is appearing in tabloid form, a mistake dating back to the Shelby Coffey era. Under Hiller, the paper has corrected the design deficiencies of the past, including virtually all the very unfortunate innovations of John Carroll's choice as design editor, Joe Hutchinson, who thankfully resigned after his work was undone.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

LA Times Threw Everything Into Covering The Fires

During my 12-day trip to the East and Canada, there is no question that the most important thing that happened, not only in Southern California, but the world, were the wildfires that destroyed about 2,000 homes in the Southland counties and, probably, forced a lasting reevaluation of what can be done to prevent, or if required, fight such fires.

I haven't had a chance yet to read back copies of the L.A. Times in depth, but a first skimming indicates that the newspaper threw everything it had into covering the fires from every angle, and for the most part, did a fine job.

The article by Christopher Hawthorne today on Page 1, headlined, "Ignoring nature, we build our way into fire's path," followed by a couple of days a somewhat similar New York Times story. But better late than never. It is vital that there now be an ongoing L.A. Times examination of the question of restrictions on building, either total restrictions or requiring safer buildings, in the fire-prone areas. Since it seems evident that global warming will be a dominant problem of our time, this is even more necessary than it has been before.

One of the outstanding articles run by the LAT came the very first day after the outbreak of major fires, and that was by Hector Becerra, whose abilities I believe are underrated by the editors. Under the headline, "loPunishing gusts may be just the beginning," Becerra delivered a clear warning that things were going to get worse. He began with a direct statement: "The fires raging across Southern California are being fueled by gale force winds that meteorologists say will worsen in the next two days as temperatures rise and humidity levels continue to plummet."

At a time when only 39 homes had been burned, this story clearly laid the scene for what happened later. I'm glad to see it ran on Page 1, and it again demonstrates that Becerra is a first class disaster writer, which any paper publishing in California needs.

Three days later, with the Times' headline story reporting that 1,609 homes had been destroyed and more than $1 billion in damage caused by the wildfires, the Times carried three articles that demonstrate, respectively, the strength and occasional weakness of Times coverage.

I've noticed this before: In the disaster period, the Times is not always well organized. Stories are not always read against each other, and sometimes inconsistency creeps in.

This is what happened Thursday, Oct. 25.

On the one hand, there was a good story by Jordan Rau out of Sacramento on Page 1 headlined, "State readiness a flash point," that dealt with the crucial question of how ready the state had been for the storm of fires last week. Although, perhaps unwisely, Rau began with the contestable statement that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration had improved readiness for fires since the last major episode in 2003, he immediately, and appropriately, qualified that by saying that "the state still confronted this week's infernos without all the equipment the experts had advised."

Altogether, the Rau story did a public service by examining the record, which, at best, was very mixed. One statistic stands out: Of 150 new state fire trucks recommended in 2004 by a special panel appointed by Schwarzenegger, only 19 were actually ordered, and none delivered, before last week's outbreak.

Not so successful was a story on Page 1 of the California section by Michael Rothfeld, also out of Sacramento. I believe Rothfeld's is a comparatively new byline in the Times, so perhaps he does not have the seasoning of some more experienced reporters. But this story was unfortunate, because it maintained, in the very headline, that the "Fire crisis plays to the governor's strengths." In then detailing how the governor had flown all over the state, showing up at one fire scene after another, giving multiple news conference and calling and then chaperoning President Bush on a fire inspection trip, Rothfeld gave the governor far too much credit, when already serious questions had arisen, outlined in the Rau, story as to the effectiveness of the governor in acquiring new fire trucks and in otherwise preparing for what happened.

Not until the final paragraph of his story did Rothfeld report the "testy" reply Schwarzenegger had to questions from ABC News as to apparently inadequate firefighting resources made available to Orange County. (The New York Times reported the governor's testy reply higher up in a much more prominent story).

Someone among the editors should have compared the Rothfeld story to the Rau story, and made adjustments.

Also, I question the headlined conclusion in a story the same day by Alan Zarembo that "Global warming not a factor in wildfires, scientists say." I wonder how many scientists were consulted in this, when it was being reported by other publications and on network television that the winds associated with the fires were the highest ever recorded in a Santa Ana wind in Southern California. The subject of global warming and the Southland fires deserves a recap. And the subject should not have been relegated to a minor sidebar, an afterthought, buried at the bottom of Page 24, when it was on everyone's minds across the country.

I probably will have more to say on the coverage of the fires when I have the chance to make a more detailed examination of it. It is apparent, however, that Times photographs were excellent and well-played. It was a tragic coincidence that one of the Times' great past disaster photographers, Jack Gaunt, died during the week that his successors did such a great job of bringing the horror of what happened to millions of Times readers.


The New York Times reports that Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, is making a surprise visit to Iran today to discuss further proposals made by Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, to the Iranian government for a resolution of the Iranian nuclear crisis. This deserves top attention, since it has been evident for some time that any resolution is liable to be the product of Russian-Iranian talks. There is every likelihood, in fact, that the Russian government is representing the West in this matter.

It is within this context that the recent visit to Moscow by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates might be examined. Western diplomatic writers have not perhaps been cognizant enough of the cooperation on some matters that seems to exist between the Russian and American governments.


Monday, October 29, 2007

2008, Evangelical Right, AntiWar Left, May Be Out

Written from Redwood City, California--

In covering Presidential campaigns, it seems that in a given year someone, or a few people, may be on the right wave length, but the situation changes, and, like as not, they won't be the next time around. So, Theodore H. White was in tune with the trends in 1960, when he wrote about the narrowly successful campaign of John F. Kennedy in his Making The President book. But he wasn't as online with history when he tried to extend his expertise to 20 years of campaigns.

In every year, there's a trend line. The character of the electorate changes. New issues come to the fore, and writers, newspapers, magazines, are often quite tardy in realizing what they are, and what will really shape the election. Sometimes the primaries give a good indication, as they did in 1968, but sometimes not. Most often, we have to wait to see the final choice presented to the voters, gage whether any third party candidates will actually impact the outcome, and then we see which will be the real swing states, as Florida was in the 2000 election (with a timely assist from the U.S. Supreme Court).

Nonetheless, there are strong developing indications this year that this will neither be the year for the evangelical right, or the antiwar left.

If the left could unite on a candidate, read either Sen. Barack Obama or former Sen. John Edwards, then Hillary Clinton would face a real challenge in the primaries. But it is unlikely that this will happen before the Feb. 5 big-state primaries, and, in the meantime, Clinton has locked in the centrist position, using some codewords with effect. In her case, recently, it's been Iran, where she's taken a harder stand than the antiwar candidates, and even Iraq, where her antiwar position has been more moderate.

If the right could unite on a candidate, then the Evangelicals might yet be felt, despite a New York Times magazine article yesterday that contended the Evangelical fervor has diminished this year. Theoretically, that could be former Sen. Fred Thompson, but he does not seem to be catching fire.

It is, to the consternation of the New York Times, and, eventually, the other liberal newspapers, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who seems to hold the lead, for now. Polls show him running first even among Evangelicals in some places, or, at least, holding his own. His three marriages, living with a gay couple, and so forth, have, as yet, not proved crippling to his candidacy, because his role on 9-11 overwhelms all that.

What Clinton and Giuliani have going for them at present, with the primaries beginning in a couple of months, also is name identification. In crowded fields, they have it, and that can be decisive, as we have found with such durable candidacies as Richard Nixon's in 1968, George W. Bush in 2000, or Jerry Brown in the crowded Democratic primary field for governor in California, in 1974. There were other good candidates in each of those races, but they couldn't get a toehold as the important primaries were frontloaded, packed toward the beginning when many voters were not paying that much attention.

Strangely, 2008 could be an issues year (beyond the Iraq war) if former Vice President Al Gore were to emerge as a candidate, but that is growing less and less likely as time passes. At present, Gore would emerge only in a deadlock, and a deadlock in the Democratic nominations fight seems unlikely. His global warming Nobel prize could make this an issues race, if he ran. Without him, only Bush's incompetence is an issue, and the major candidates will probably agree on that, as nearly everyone else does.

It is always possible, too, that Clinton or Giuliani might tack to the left or right in choosing a vice presidential nominee. But I think that is unlikely too. Both of them are well-organized, careful politicians with a game plan, and both most likely will be reaching for the center in presenting a final choice to the electorate.

So, will there be a significant third party challenge? Probably not. I remarked recently that the Republican Right distrusts and dislikes Clinton too much to get in the way of a Giuliani candidacy with a rightwing third party candidate, and, certainly, Giuliani will provoke too many fears on the left for a third party anti-Clinton candidacy.

The security issue may be important next year, depending on what the terrorists do, but even that may be fuzzed up to some extent, as the candidates move toward the center. However, it is possible that immigration may become a major issue in 2008, if Giuliani chooses to make it one.

Surprises? Well, there could always be some, such as the Tet offensive was to Johnson in 1968, knocking him out of the race for reelection. But then surprises wouldn't be surprises, if we could easily see them coming.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fundamental, Not Incremental, Wildfire Reforms

Written from Redwood City, Calif.--

There is a kind of disjoint between the New York Times and Los Angeles Times coverage of the wildfires in Southern California this past week in today's Sunday newspapers.

The Los Angeles Times pays more attention to the shortfalls in state, county and local planning for the fires -- the state plans for 150 more fire engines (only 19 realized), the decline in the number of volunteers in Orange County, the gaps caused in some places by sending firefighters to earlier fires in others, and so on. All this, I imagine, is quite valid.

But the New York Times takes a longer. deeper view, and it may be a more useful one. Its frontpage story, "Rethinking Fire Policy in the Tinderbox Zone," by Kirk Johnson and Jesse McKinley, points out that, while fires recur year after year, the number of homes built in hazardous zones has increased exponentially. Had the fires that occurred last week occurred in 1980, 61,000 homes would have been within a mile of the blazes. By 2000, that number would have been 100,000, and by this year it has grown to 125,000. The figures are from a University of Wisconsin study. During the same period, the firefighting resources have not grown by as much. So the exposure has increased, while the means of dealing with it have been reduced proportionally.

The New York Times story gives a nod to the thought that perhaps it would be wise to curtail or stop building homes in the hazardous zones. The story quotes the state fire marshal, Kate Dargan, as saying that discussions have been going on about this, but it says decision on such a monumental change is "prrhaps five to 10 years away."

As a native Californian with experience in disaster reporting, I'd say there is every likelihood, it is further off than this. There is virtually no chance of an operable ban on building in hazardous zones within the next decade, because it would be resisted violently by both homeowners and the building industry. The lobbies are just too strong in Sacramento, and our elected officials lack the willpower to take on such major reforms.

The authors of the New York Times story are more accurate when they observe, "State and local governments are locked in an increasingly difficult battle with Mother Nature."

Another interesting fact noted in an accompanying story by Solomon Moore and Eric Lipton is that while about 2,000 homes were burned or damaged in the latest Southern California wildfires, approximately 300,000 were so affected by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast two years ago.

But there has been no plan adopted to clear out of New Orleans and build on higher ground. Rather the emphasis there has been on rebuilding structures and building a more efficient levie system.

Proposals that certain hazardous zones be made the subject of building bans has also been heard in relation to the seismic dangers in California. But in this instance even less has been done. The Alquist-Priolo Act bans building right on faults, but the ban involves only a few feet. At least with the fires, some emphasis has been placed on clearing the brush from the immediate vicinity of houses and using more fire-resistant roofing materials.

Bettina Boxall, in her story in the New York Times, makes a reference to California growth in relation to the fires, but she does not go into the detail evident in the New York Times stories.

Yet, this is a debate that needs to be undertaken, and newspapers like the Los Angeles Times have to widen their attention span to all the time rather than primarily the week or two after each major fire episode.

Another aspect of what has transpired in the last week has to do with FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which fell down almost completely after Katrina, and has now suffered the embarrassment of calling a fake news conference to report too glowingly on its supposed greater success with the fires.

But the trouble with these disaster agencies is that they are jerry-built operations functioning at full strength only during and in the immediate aftermath of disasters, and even then with second rate personnel.

Yet, it should be noted, disasters can have devastating political consequences. Almost as much as Iraq, the Bush Administration has suffered huge embarrassment by the perceived incompetence of its handling of Katrina, and in California, the able Gov. Pat Brown fell to Ronald Reagan in 1966 in part because of his perceived ineptitude at the time of the 1965 Watts Riots in Los Angeles (when he had the misfortune to be on a trip to Greece when his lieutenant governor, Glenn Anderson, failed to send in the National Guard promptly enough).

When Grey Davis was elected governor, I mentioned to a key adviser that Davis should take care to name a top person to head the State Office of Emergency Services, just in case a disaster struck. Yet, Davis appointed a second-rater and was just lucky nothing of great magnitude did happen.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has weakened the state Seismic Safety Commission.

It remains somewhat debatable to what extent, if any, global warming that has occurred so far contributed to the week's wildfires. It is possible, but as the press points out there have been devastating fires before. Very serious ones occurred in 1889, but there weren't very many dwellings in their path.

If, of course, we do little or nothing about global warming, certainly the case up to now, and it does grow as bad as some scientific estimates would have it, then the issues posed by the week's fires will be very small compared with what could happen.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Huckabee Not Experienced Enough To Be President

Written from Redwood City, Calif.--

It is natural that political writers, searching for novelty in a long campaign, give heavy play to whoever comes along who is new, charming and colorful. But it doesn't mean that someone like this is necessarily qualified to be President, or that everything that is written is necessarily very revealing as to what kind of President the candidate would make.

We've gotten to the point in our history where we simply can't afford on-the-job training. We found out that with Jimmy Carter and, to a lesser extent, Bill Clinton. Both were former Southern governors who were personable, and certainly ambitious, but really had neither the experience nor the character to be good presidents. Carter was a better former president for awhile, although he has grown cantankerous in old age. Clinton is, I believe, fundamentally flawed. Actually, his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, may be a better politician and certainly would bring more experience to the White House than he did.

All this comes to mind today, because of the flurry of attention that former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas is gaining in the race for the Republican Presidential nomination. The column by Gail Collins in the New York Times this week is an example. Huckabee is not quite there yet, but he may become the Estes Kefauver, the Jeffrey Hart or the John McCain of the 2008 presidential contest -- namely a nice guy, a new figure, who will do quite well electorally, but whose flaws have not been fully taken into account. Like Kefauver and Hart, at least, he has absolutely no experience in foreign affairs. He may have gone to Hawaii, but that seems the visible extent of his transoceanic record.

The experienced politicians who seem best qualified to actually perform the duties of President at this stage are Hillary Clinton and Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico on the Democratic side and possibly former mayor Rudolph Giuliani of New York on the Republican.

It's part of the ideals of America that we often prefer a charming farmer from a small state -- an amateur -- to be President. Unfortunately, the nation now has foreign policy crises which really do not allow us to afford experimentation with the untested.

It is, however, another serious question in judging who should be President that we very often can have no clue from the campaign what they would do in office. In the last century, we have had all too many cases of someone, even while experienced, who ran on one platform, only in office to adopt another. Woodrow Wilson, in 1916, ran for reelection on the slogan, "He kept us out of the War." One month after he was inaugurated for his second term, he called for a declaration of war against Germany. Lyndon Johnson ran in 1964 as a more peaceable candidate than Barry Goldwater. That lasted just two and a half weeks after his inauguration to a new term. On Feb. 7, 1965, Johnson entered into a fatal escalation of the war in Vietnam. George W. Bush vowed in his campaign to avoid a "nation-building" foreign policy, only, after 9-11, to adopt one.

I'm not saying circumstances do not sometimes change, requiring a new policy. But there has been an element of insincerity in presidential campaigning which has been disquieting. It's as if there is a mortal flaw in the democratic system.

With Huckabee, there is absolutely no background upon which to judge what he might do in the ongoing conflict with Islamic extremists or the increasingly unsettled relations with Russia, not to mention how he would confront, or not confront, global warming.

But even with Giuliani, there are hints of bellicosity, toward Iran and others, which, at the very least require close examination before votes are cast for his election.

With Richardson, due to his experience in Congress, as energy secretary and United Nations Ambassador, and, more recently in negotiations with the North Korean regime of Kim Il Jong, and the Sudanese regime in the Darfur dispute, we have a better idea of what kind of President he might make. But, if anything, he is more likely to be a vice president, since he probably cannot win the Democratic nomination.

The best article I've seen on Hillary Clinton ran a few months ago in the New York Times magazine, which has devoted admirable space to several long articles on various candidates. In this piece, Clinton appeared to be somewhat more hawkish on one hand, and somewhat more hesitant on the other, than she has come across in her campaign appearances. She has had a certain tendency in the Senate to qualify her positions. But she is careful and I think has shown good qualities.

The chances are that we will not learn all that much more about any of these candidates before the election. Even the ultimately most adventurous presidents, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt in his dealings with the Great Depression, seldom reveal much of themselves in the actual campaigning. Even Lincoln in 1860 gave it to understand he would not abolish slavery in the South, which absolutely had to be done.

In 1932, Roosevelt actually campaigned on a pledge to balance the budget, most notably in a speech in Pittsburgh. When he was scheduled to make another speech in the same city in 1936, after a first term with a distinctly unbalanced budget, an aide asked him how he might explain this in the new speech. "We'll deny we ever were in Pittsburgh in 1932," Roosevelt is reported to have answered.

So Presidential campaigning is a turkey shoot. It's why I tend to prefer the British system of parliamentary democracy. At least when the British face a crisis, they can bring in a vigorous new prime minister, often with a clear policy, on short notice, as they did with Pitt in the Napoleonic wars and Churchill in World War II.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Tribune Continues To Slide In Los Angeles

Written from Vancouver, B.C.--

My train trip across Canada is over, and I notice that just in the four days since leaving Montreal, the dollar has gone down again against the Canadian dollar. I got $94 Canadian for $100 Sunday night in Montreal and this morning I got only $90 Canadian for $100 American. Since prices in Canada are higher than the U.S. (for food, etc.), the decline of the U.S.dollar is glaringly apparent here. So, in addition to the credit crisis, we also have a monetary problem, and it is not negligible. The price of the war, and mismanagement of the finance system by the Federal Reserve Board and other government institutions are clearly most to blame.

It is sad to turn on the Internet after only a few days and find that there is fresh proof that the Tribune Co., a sad institution in the best of times, is turning even sadder.

First, there is the news that Channel Five, the Tribune-owned KTLA, doesn't cover the news any more. Hal Fishman's body is barely cold in his grave, before KTLA marches downhill, giving poor coverage to the fires in Los Angeles, running trash TV rather than fire coverage.

How sad it is that Tribune falls down at every opportunity. I see that on the way down, the inept jackass who is the Tribune CEO, Dennis FitzSimons, is selling the Greenwich Time newspaper. Ultimately, if he stays in charge, FitzSimons might unravel the whole company. But what he should be doing immediately is calling it quits in Los Angeles.

To put it charitably, FitzSimons, David Hiller, Scott Smith, James O'Shea, the whole motley crew, ought to get out of the newspaper business and do something they might be good at, like driving taxis. I had a good taxi driver to my hotel in Vancouver this morning, very friendly and fast. Maybe, he could train the Tribune people.

Also, from what Bill Boyarsky writes, the discussion on Times Latino coverage that recently took place established clearly the obvious: Times Latino coverage has sunk badly.

And Hiller has said repeatedly that he would work to improve Latino coverage. Bushwa! Like his assurances that the Times Web site would improve, these assurances have not proved to be not worth toilet tissue.

Tribune is simply a bad company. And it is time that Los Angeles business leaders rev up their efforts to find a better owner.

How should we force Tribune to sell? Wait awhile. This sorry company is disintegrating and all these bumpkins will be able to accomplish is to vote themselves large severances, like Mark Willes got, when they scram out the door.


The New York Times reports that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger replied testily when asked why more planes were not available to fight the Southern California wildfires.

The governor is a phony, who caters to the big lobbies but does not do his job. Maybe he too should be RECALLED. He has proved no better than Grey Davis, maybe worse.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Canada's VIA Rail Service Truly Excellent

Written From Winnipeg--

I have little time to write this before the train leaves for the West. But I'm happy to be able to recommend Canada's transcontinental train service without reservation..

It is better unquestionably than Amtrak. The food is better, and so is the service. This is a trip well worth taking, and many Americans, but few Californians are aboard. In fact, I have yet to meet anyone from California.
.But I have met quite a few Southerners. Over the prime rib, last night, I talked politics with a knowledgable South Carolinian, who thought Giuliani and Clinton would be the nominees.

Canada's a big country and it takes three days to cross it. VIA Rail is not cheap, but it's good, with a great tour book to accompany each passenger, comofrtavble roomettes and a most accommodating staff.

There is some worry here that the Canadian dollar is too high, with one Canadian dollar worth $1.03 American.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Socal Fires Point Up Need For Local Ownership

Written from Toronto--

Even in Eastern Canada, the fires now wracking Southern California, burning hundreds of thousands of acres, destroying hundreds of homes, forcing evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people, are the biggest story of the week.

And they are definitely seen here as exacerbated by global warming. A dryer Southern California, a longer summer, led, it is written this morning in the Toronto Globe and Mail to the most severe fires in the state's history. But global warming is a local story here too. The temperature in Toronto when I arrived by train yesterday afternoon was close to 70 degrees, very rare at this time of year, and there have been stories here that evaporation has increased in the Great Lakes with higher temperatures. Lake Superior accordingly, is at its lowest level ever, and this means less water is flowing into the lower lakes.

I have no question that the L.A. Times is doing a great job covering this story, because the paper always does well with disasters. The staff rises to the occasion.

But I wonder whether Times coverage has been properly focused on the danger in the years and months leading up to the fires. My impression is that the answer is no.

The 2003 Cedar fire in San Diego revealed that that county had inadequate fire fighting capability and that, because it was at the extreme south end of the state, it could not count on all that much aid from outside counties. The trouble was that when fires are burning in San Diego County they are likely burning in Los Angeles and San Bernardino too. Oftentimes, these counties consume their own resources, and absorb most of the aid from the north, and San Diego is left to cope pretty much on its own.

But I found, as an earthquake and sometimes fire reporter for the Times that attention languished when the disaster was over.

This is where a locally-owned paper probably would be doing better. Under the Chandlers, the newspaper kept up with state issues, such as air pollution, water pollution, fire fighting budgeting, and so forth much more comprehensively.

My strong impression is that under the Tribune Co., not so much lasting attention is being paid.

I don't think the Times has kept up well with just what was happening in local, county and state government to get ready for the disastrous fire than had now occurred. After all, David Hiller and his Eastern comrades don't really know California;. They are not sufficiently aware of the fire danger here, and they don't, therefore, have reporters working this beat full time. I can't remember a useful story this year on just how ready the state was, even though this was the driest year in Los Angeles history, and the state clearly had budgetary shortfalls.

We need local ownership, now more than ever. Getting rid of these outsiders would mean the paper would take better care of the people's business, and the people, realizing that, would have more support for the paper.

I'm leaving by the Canadian transcontinental train for Vancouver in about two hours, and am not sure whether I will be able to borrow a wireless computer on the train to write in the next two days, but will try.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Warnings To Iran Flow, But War Remains Unlikely

Written from Montreal--

Vice President Cheney is the latest to warn that the U.S. will not permit Iran to have nuclear weapons. His strongly-worded speech to the Middle Eastern Institute followed President Bush's statement that an Iranian atomic bomb could mean World War III, and French and German warnings have also proliferated.

It was taken as a bad sign also when Ali Larijani either resigned or was forced out last week as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator. The New York Times report speculated that this meant new support for the fanatic Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, from Iran's supreme ayatolla, Ali Khamenei.

The U.S. is ratcheting up pressure by sending three aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf, and there are reports that last month's Israeli air strike at a possible nuclear installation in Syria was practice for a strike against such facilities in Iran.

But a war between Iran, Israel and the U.S. probably remains unlikely for several reasons.

First, everyone on both sides realizes such a conflict could provoke mass murder in the Middle East and, with resulting terrorism in the U.S. and Europe, probably would not be confined to the Middle East.

No one really wants a war, certainly not either the Bush Administration or Israel. Both would certainly accept a deal allowing Iran to develop nuclear energy, if some system of inspection and guarantees could be devised against its development into weapons.

There are certainly elements in Iran which realize that a war would likely mean the end of the regime of the Mullahs there.

It is in this light that Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit last week to Tehran might be seen. There was much bombast at this meeting, but it is hard to conceive that Putin did not make serious offers to resolve the crisis. A war between Iran and the U.S. and Israel is not in Russia's interest either. And, notice, Russia sent two ranking diplomats to Jerusalem immediately following the Putin visit. And the Israelis conducted a minor body exchange with Iranian-backed Hezbollah, and there was talk of a prisoner exchange., so talks are on there too. The Iranians seem to have backed off their earlier attempts to oust the pro-Western government in Lebanon.

Behind the scenes, so, there is much diplomacy.

Already, the Iranian nuclear facilities are probably well diversified underground and very difficult to knock out. But I think that what really militates against war is that everyone recognizes how bad it would be.

Big wars usually result from fatal miscalculations. There is so much contemplation of the stakes here that it will probably never take place.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

At A Dartmouth Reunion, Some Things Not In Sync

Written From Hanover, N.H.--

Some things were the same as Dartmouth College's Class of 1960 met here over the weekend for its mini-reunion. Forty-seven years after graduation, our class members are now approaching 70 years of age. We will meet in Boston next June for several days to celebrate that milestone. But every October the most loyal alumni return to Hanover for the homecoming weekend, the huge bonfire, the parade of classes down Main St., the football game. a class meeting and a class dinner.

This year, as all the others within memory, most of the 70 members of the surviving 700 class members who came to the reunion gathered around the grand piano after the dinner in the venerable old Hanover Inn, next to the Dartmouth Green, to sing the old college songs. Our classmate, Bob Kenerson, a psychiatrist and professor at the Harvard Medical School, played the songs and we all sang lustily (even me, who cannot sing).

But this year, some things were different. For one thing, here we are in late October. When we were students attending Dartmouth, peak fall color here in Northern New England was two weeks earlier, usually the first weekend of the month. This year, the weather has been so balmy, even warm, that peak color is now.

It seems likely that global warming is the cause. The temperature has been in the 70s so often this week that the management at the Hanover Inn has decided to reopen its terrace for outdoor dining. That would have been unheard of in late October when we were students here.

The winter of our Freshman year, one morning the temperature in Hanover 42 degrees below zero, and I raced outside to see whether what Jack London had written was true -- that at that temperature, if you spit, it would freeze before it hit the ground. I found out it was indeed true.

But it appears it never gets as low as 42 degree below any more.

Another thing seems out of sync, and that has to do with the trip I'm about to take across Canada.

When I was a student here, I hitchhiked once up to Quebec City. In those days, and almost all of the years since, the Canadian dollar was worth quite a bit less than the American, sometimes a disparity of 40%. Even if the prices were higher, it seemed and was cheaper for an American there.

Today, when I take the bus to Montreal, I expect to have to give, by a slight margin, more than a dollar American to get a dollar Canadian.

This has proved a boon for the Canadians, needless to say. They now cross the border to find cheaper prices.

Well, of course, other things have changed. Some of my classmates are more recognizable to me than others. Some of the talk about athletic exploits has faded, and now often the talk is about our ailments (although the shortstop on our Dartmouth baseball team is still playing shortstop, this time softball, on a team of men in their60s).

Als0, our class seems more liberal. The talk here this weekend was of the certainty, in many classmates' eyes, of a Democratic victory next year in the presidential election. I'm not quite willing to concede that just yet. My views have changed since 1960 when, in my senior year, I was chairman of Dartmouth Students for John F. Kennedy.

"Where, oh where, are the pea green Freshmen?," we sang last night. Those days seemed very distant. But, of course, there's a new class of Freshmen now. Members of the Class of 2011 ran ceremoniously around the bonfire Friday night, as each new class has for centuries.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

GOP Prospectives As Sen.Sam Brownback Quits

Written From Lyme, N.H.--

As the New York Times reports that Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas will today give up a presidential campaign that never generated much support, attention is turning for now to what the Evangelical Right will do in the campaign for the Republikcan nomination.

It could be that former Gov. Michael Huckabee of Arkansas may benefit, particularly in Iowa where he seems to be running well, from Brownback's departure. But I think it unlikely that Huckabee can rise fast enough from to prevent former New York Mayor Rudolph Giul;iani from capturing the nomination. Other candidates, such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson seem stuck at their present inadequate levels
of support, although perhaps Romney cannot be counted out.

In the event Giuliani is the nominee, what will the Republican Evangelical Right do? There have been half-hearted suggestions that it could form a third party to contest the race, but I'd be surprised. This would only facilitate the election of Sen. Hillary Clinton as the first female president of the United States, and I find it hard to believe that that the Right dislikes Giuliani more than they hate the thought of another Clinton presidency.

The fact is that 9-11 and the threat of more of the same hangs over the presidential campaign and security issues are far more important for now than social ones. So Giuliani's stands on abortion, gun control and gays are not the detriment they might be in a more conventional campaign. Giuliani is the security candidate and, among Republicans of any stripe that trumps everything. He is skillfully capitalizing on the issue.

Brownback made a mistake that other would-be candidates have made. He thoought he could run for President without being first appreciated by the political press corps as a major political figure worthy of attention. And partly because he could not get attention, he was not able to raise money. The New York Times reports he was able to raise only $804,000 in the third quarter of the year and $4.2 million overall.

Some might remember that Jimmy Carter succeeded in 1976 as originally a dark horse. But I covered Carter's campaign and can tell you that the first thing Carter did was to cultivate friends in the political press outside of Washingtn he thought would be influential. He courted us all very assiduously. By the last week of December in 1975, R.W. Apple, then chief political correspondent for the New York Times, was already rating Carter one of the most four likely Democratic nominees. That gave him a powerful push in the early caucuses and primaries.

Carter also set himself up cleverly as a giant-killer. Asked as early as the summer of 1974, how he possibly thought he could win, he would respond simply, "I'm going to go down to Florida and beat George Wallace in the Florida primary.

When, on March 9,, 1976, he did just that, Carter was on the road to the presidentcy. (But, unfortunately, of course, he wasn't a good president).

It should also be noted that Carter had a stamina for campaigning, as now both Giuliani and Clinton are showing. That too can be an important ingredient of success. Thompson, on the other hand, shows little aptitude for hard campaigning.

Brownback had no viable plan, and I wonder, in this year's race, whether even Romney or Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois do. The only candidates with reasonable plans seem to be Clinton and Giuliani.

The New York Times and Washington Post have been running excellent political coverage, quite straight forward except for the clear New York Times dislike of Giuliani. Others can't compare.


Friday, October 19, 2007

Terrorists Strike Benazir Bhutto In Karachi

Written From Lyme, N.H.--

In another instance of terror attacks meant to destabilize Pakistani society, suicide bombers allegedly working for Al-Qaeda and the Taliban attacked the convoy of Benazir Bhutto as she reentered Karachi after eight years in exile.

Reports today are that 136 died and about 250 were injured in the attempts by at least four extremist Muslim assailants to murder Bhutto amid rapturous welcoming crowds.

Fortunately, the former Pakistani prime minister, who had been riding on top of an armored truck before the bombings occurred, was inside the truck and protected at the moment of the attack. Security agents quickly removed her, unhurt, to safety.

Bhutto today assailed the terrorists and again vowed she would work to destroy their influence in Pakistan. But, shaken by the attack, she also suggested that elements of the government sympathetic to the terrorists might have somehow facilitated their plot. It is not the first suggestion that Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf does not fully control his own government.

The fact is that until Osama bin Laden and his followers are terminated, they will continue their attempts to remove in nuclear-armed Pakistan every semblance of civilized order. Their aim is to take over both Pakistan and its nuclear weapons, and this would be such a dire threat to the world that they must be stopped no matter what the cost.

This is what foes of War On Terror in Washington and elsewhere do not understand: This is a war to the finish, and not until Al-Qaeda and its allies in the Muslim world are finished will the world be safe. Fortunately, these are such murderous, barbaric organizations that one day they may implode. We have already seen in Iraq how they have lost, through their brutal practices, the allegiance of even most of their fellow-Sunnis. Now that Al-Qaeda has begun to lose in Iraq, it may shift the battle to Pakistan, as a more promising locale.

That said, it is an embarrassment for the Musharraf regime that its security forces could not or would not better protect the Bhutto convoy. What almost happened to Bhutto was reminiscent of the assassination of Ninoy Aquino in the Philippines the very day that he returned to that country from exile.

One of the complicating factors in Pakistan, like many Muslim countries, is that duplicity is everywhere. In Pakistan, from even before the murder of the American journalist Daniel Pearl, there have been a whole host of questions as to just who is on whose side. Pakistani intelligence is strongly permeated with sympathies for the terrorists, nuclear engineers reach their own deals with foreign countries, Musharaff and Bhutto command conflicting loyalties. It is a country that is barely organized and mostly incapable of ruling itself.

The Bhutto caravan last night was headed for the Muhammed Jinnah Memorial, which honors the devious politician who insisted on the partition of India in the first place, a 1947 separation that was accompanied by internecine strife that killed a million people and set up in the case of Pakistan a fundamentally unstable state, while leaving more than 100 million Muslims behind to destabilize India. It would have been better to force the Muslims to accept Hindu control throughout the subcontinent.

The whole region continues to pay the price of the haste of the British to give this region independence. As in the Holy Land, the British left a mess behind.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Housing Downturn Now Gets Prime Coverage

Written from Manchester, N.H.--

I know I'm in New Hampshire, because I've just seen my first 2008 campaign commercial -- for the New Hampshie primary, by John McCain. I guess I was misinformed when I read that he had run out of money.

But my subject today is, once again, the housing downturn, the subprime mortgage crisis, how the economic gurus in large part didn't see it coming, and how it's now being covered by the nation's news media.

It is good news that the Los Angeles Times has just transferred the able Peter Hong from his most recent assignment of covering the Phil Spector trial (another example of celebrity justice of which California can be so proud) to the Business section, where he will focus on the housing downturn and all its many ramifications.

Hong shared a headline byline yesterday on the 50% collapse of Southern California housing sales between last year and this, and, hopefully, with him writing, the story will now get regular Page 1 exposure. This is only correct, because it has become more and more obvious that the trouble is affecting many other parts of the economy, and that failing to appreciate there was a housing bubble has now impacted not only the Federal Reserve Board but the whole banking and finance industry, not to mention Wall Street and the big stock brokerages.

It is only here, at the Fairfield Inn in Manchester, that I would ever read USA Today, not my favorite newspaper, but I noticed this morning that they have an apt editorial questioning, "Why did the housing crisis catch watchdogs by surprise?"

"In case you hadn't noticed, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, and Treasury Secretary Henry Poulson have been taking the housing mess a lot more seriously," the editorial begins. "Both noted in speeches this week that it will continue to weigh on the economy. Poulson has been pushing a privately financed $100 billion fund to help relieve banks of some of the dubious mortgage debt they hold. And Bernanke has slashed interest rats and made funds available to encourage lending.

"This raises an obvious question. If they are so keen on the issue now, where were they -- and where were their predecessors -- when the subprime crisis was developing.

"The obvious answer is, nowhere to be found."

But I diusagree with that last sentence. It seems fairly obvious that we have been let down once again by the experts. In fact, it was just common sense that should have told them years ago that when you loan money, on adjustable terms, to people who have no resources and really can't afford repayments even at the lower rates, that when they adjust upward, many are going to go into default.

It seems clear that even if these people, including former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, weren't dopes, at least they were undisciplined. They let things slide in the financial system, they didn't object when all kinds of connections with made with securities speculators, European banks, and so on and on.

And now we are all reaping the harvest from these careless policies. It is not only unethical Countrywide that has hit the skids but many more innocent victims.

I've noticed it before. Many "experts" are not all that expert. Maybe, their educations weren't sufficient. Maybe, they were never all that qualified in the first place to be admitted to the best schools.

In any case, the news media must now learn about the situation and delineate it for the public in all its specifics. But the greatest specific of all is that the men and women who oversee our economy are about as efficient planners as those who supervised the Iraq war (before we finally found Gen. David Petraeus).

We need other generals now, in the Federal Reserve Board, and in the Dept. of the Treasury. I don't mean military men, but men and women who are skillful enough to rise to the occasion in this emergency.

Pending that, things will continue to slide.


Kudos to Ralph Varabedian for his story in the L.A. Times automotive section yesterday on how the insurance companies are conspiring to pervert car collision repairs by putting pressure on the body shops to cut costs, use inferior spare parts, and even pay kickbacks to get the insurers' recommendations to their policyholders who have accidents.

The only reservation I had on Varabedian's story was that he quoted Carol Thorp, a spokeswoman for the Automobile Club of Southern California, a little too much. As an insurance and consumer writer for the Times, I did not feel the Auto Club and Thorp were necessarily on the side of the good guys. After all, they are insurers too.

I found as a consumer columnist that there was more corruption in the whole business of auto sales and repair than even the California Legislature, which is saying something.


There's mixed news for the Tribune Co., and the takeover by Sam Zell, in the FCC proposal, unveiled this week, to recommend a relaxation in the ban on ownership of newspaper and TV outlets in the same big media markets. Initially, it seemed that adoption of the relaxation would clear the way for the Zell deal to take place. But later reports, including one in the Chicago Tribune itself, put that in some doubt, since the relaxation would not, in itself clear the Tribune Co., to continue cross ownership of newspaper and TV markets everywhere, and, in Los Angeles, the Tribune license to operate Channel 5 has apparently expired. Waivers would, in any event, still be needed from the FCC. In short, hurdles remain, and the credit crisis and stock market downturn may threaten the Zell deal. This could, in turn, threaten breakup of the company, and, even possibly bring about, at last, sale of the L.A Times to others. No wonder Chicago toady David Hiller, theTimes publisher, has been running around like a chicken with his head cut off.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

New Monthly L.A. Times Magazine A Success

The again renamed, new monthly version of the Los Angeles Times Magazine, unveiled Sunday is a distinct improvement over some of its misbegotten predecessors, because, for once, the newspaper has taken care to see that something it did in the magazine field was done with sufficient attention to turn out right.

The magazine's Baja California-focused articles, under the aegis of "Consulting Editor" Lennie Laguire, first of all chose a subject of wide interest to Southern Californians. Second, this was about an activity pioneered by the late great Times columnist Jack Smith, who built his own seaside home in Baja and wrote about it frequently, and, third, the newspaper's advertising staff succeeded in selling enough advertising to allow for a 94-page product.

Under the unlamented editor Rick Wartzman, the weekly predecessor, West Magazine, was often so thin it looked like a throw-away. Wartzman, too, as everyone soon realized, was no magazine editor.

By contrast, Laguire has proved, throughout her career, to be an inventive editor. And why shouldn't I say so? After all, in 1998, Laguire was the first editor to suggest that I write a weekly consumer column, and I've always been proud the way that it turned out under the editorship of Tim Rutten.

I keep hoping that the L.A. Times will turn once again into a newspaper for all of California, and this is a step forward, although the "Baja" features of the first monthly did not deal with the downsides of American ownership of Mexican property, (and there are some downsides). Still, I thought it was a good product, and we can only hope it will continue to be.

Southern California, like New York City, has many offspring. Many residents of the Los Angeles-Orange County metropolitan area own second homes in nearby resort areas, and Baja California is just one of these, so there is plenty of ground to explore here. And since California is the finest place to live in the world, there are many aspects to this, and many ways to write about it.

It's good to see the Times doing something new, quite well. I haven't been an enthusiast for the newspaper's glitzy new Image section, which with its fixation on Hollywood celebrities and even cheesecake, has more seemed a forbiddingly-sexed version of a Chicagoan's fantasies about Southern California than a homegrown product.

There also now are promises that the Calendar section Thursday will be split, and in addition to the regular Calendar, there will be a new Guide section that day that will incorporate some of the TV listings the newspaper lost when it did in the popular weekly TV Guide.

Even so shortsighted an exponent of bad journalism as the Times' Chicago-import publisher David Hiller has admitted publicly that the Times angered many readers when it dropped the TV Guide. We'll have to see how satisfactory a replacement the new Guide will be.

The monthly magazine, by the way, follows a certain trend in American newspapers back toward magazines. The New York Times magazine has always been good, but now the new Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal is beginning a weekly magazine, and there's also word, I think, of a magazine for the New York Post.

There should be advertising for all these products, but, more than that, they represent a realization on the part of newspaper editors that they should give their readers an extra dimension of news, which a good magazine represents.

Altogether, there has been too much pessimism about the future of newspapers. They have a very long life yet, when they are imaginatively edited, and we saw evidence of that last Sunday with Laguire's L.A. Times Magazine. Perhaps it was influenced also by John Montorio, who has been promoted to become a Times managing editor, and perhaps had some say over the recreation of the magazine.

Montorio was reportedly disappointed at Wartzman's product. He can be proud of Laguire's.


I'm off today on my annual visit to Hanover, N.H., for my Dartmouth College mini-reunion. On Friday night, my class of 1960 will join other surviving classes in marching under class flags through the small town to the splendid Dartmouth Green. A huge bonfire built by the students will follow the singing of College songs. Northern New England, despite a warm fall, may be past peak color, but I always enjoy my class meeting, seeing old friends, our tailgate party and a class dinner. Seldom however, am I enticed to see the Dartmouth football team, which has fallen on ill days. I'll probably spend Saturday afternoon watching NBC's showing of the USC-Notre Dame game.

After that, I've purchased a ticket next week to take VIA Rail's transcontinental train across Canada to Vancouver. This will be a cool trip. There may even be some snow, and, if I can borrow a lap top on the train, there ought to be no break in this blog, which, according to my "Site Meter" has been doing quite well in attracting readers of late.

As readers of this blog know, I love train travel, and back in 1969 took Canadian Pacific's train, the Canadian, from Toronto to Lake Louise. That followed a more southerly route than I'll be taking next week through Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Jasper National Park, the old Canadian National route.

The cost of crossing Canada in a sleeper, a train which like the Sunset Limited here, departs three days a week, is about $1,400. That will get me a tiny bedroom, actually, use of a dome car to view the scenery and all meals free. This contrasts with today's $109 fare on a Southwestern Airlines flight to Manchester, N.H. But I'm ready to say that train travel to me is at least 14 times more attractive than going by plane.

(Later, from MANCHESTER, N.H.) Also, as I've noted before, the airlines are suffering under deregulation. Competition has brought inadequate fares. The $109 I paid today to fly oneway across the country is actually less than the $275 roundtrip I paid for my first flight home from Dartmouth 57 years ago. And this doesn't even include inflation. If inflation is taken into account, today's fare is far, far below what I paid as a Freshman in college. That's just not right. If we are going to have airlines with food and decent service, we're going to have to set higher fares for the airlines. And another advantage of that would be, it would relieve overcrowding. Right now, we have an air travel system that isn't working well for either the companies, or, in terms of service, for the public. My flight across the country today from Burbank, to Phoenix, to Manchester, was on time. Southwest is an efficient airline, much better than mainstream United or American. But the only food we got in six hours of flying were cheese and crackers, chocolate chip cookies and some dried food chips. I would have been happy to pay more, if it included food.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hints Of Victory Over Al-Qaeda In Iraq War News

While the New York Times and L.A. Times, as usual, are preoccupied with every piece of negative news on the Iraq war that they can possibly emphasize, the tide of battle in the war has been changing. The Washington Post seems to be following this more carefully than either of the other two newspapers.

An article yesterday by Thomas Ricks and Karen DeYoung in the Post, headlined "Al-Qaeda In Iraq Reported Crippled," pays attention to what should preoccupy us: how the war is actually going, and it contains quite a bit of good news.

Ricks in particular has been no booster in the past, of the war effort. His book, "Fiasco," detailed at great length all the failures that marked the first years of the American counterinsurgency effort following our invasion of 2003.

So it may be particularly significant that Ricks has been reporting for some time now that there have been gains in the war in recent months, especially against the Al-Qaeda extremists. This follows the turnaround in Anbar province, where Arab tribal leaders have turned against Al-Qaeda and now are, for at least the time being, allied with American forces. The number of enemy attacks in Anbar has declined so substantially that there are now suggestions, reported in the past week in the New York Times, that U.S. Marines be relieved in Anbar by Army troops and perhaps be sent to Afghanistan, where, recently, the war has not been going so well.

In their article yesterday, Ricks and DeYoung report what has become obvious to careful watchers of the war: The number of violent incidents, especially suicide bombings, is down, the number of casualties among American and other allied forces is half what it was, the number of foreign infiltrators from Syria has gone down, and there are now a greater number of pacified neighborhoods in the city of Baghdad.

The Ricks-DeYoung article was picked up last night by CNN and became the focus of the lead report on the nightly news. But, strangely, the NBC Nightly News did not so much as mention it.

The Post writers are appropriately cautious. There have been false hopes before, only to be followed by an upsurge of Al-Qaeda and other enemy attacks.

But they report that Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, head of the Joint Special Forces Operations Command, has gone so far as to suggest that the U.S. proclaim victory over Al-Qaeda in Iraq. and they quote Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, second-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq under Gen. David Petraeus, the overall commander, as saying that Al-Qaeda forces in Iraq "are less and less coordinated, more and more fragmented."

At the same time, Ricks and DeYoung quote a senior unnamed intelligence official as expressing the opinion that it would be "premature" to claim victory, since Al-Qaeda retains "the ability for surprise and for catastrophic attacks."

In another piece of war news, there are reports this week of Shiite elements turning against the Mahdi militias that have also caused so much trouble for American forces. A Shiite group went to predominantly-Sunni Anbar just this week to meet with Sunnis who have turned against Al-Qaeda, and at this meeting there was talk between Shiites and Sunnis of a reconciliation that could bring more peace to Iraq.

All this is worth our close attention. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times editorial writers have in past months joined Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic majority leader, and some other Democrats in Congress as saying the war in Iraq is lost and that the only question should be how fast we can withdraw from that country.

I felt at the time that this sentiment, at the very least, was premature. The war is not lost, unless we agree it is lost, and the recent news would indicate we are beginning, with the effort of thousands of gallant American troops, and some assistance by Iraqi Army units, to turn the tide. When Thomas Ricks and other past critics of the war begin saying so, it is a good sign.

It could even be that the stubbornness of President Bush in pursuing the war effort, and the recent statements of three leading Democratic presidential candidates -- Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards -- that they would envision American troops staying in Iraq in some numbers through their prospective first terms of office, have dfiscouraged our enemies. It has long seemed to me that once the Arab terrorists understood we were not about to withdraw our forces, they would become discouraged and perhaps decide to deemphasize Iraq and transfer their struggle against us elsewhere.

We have an immense stake in eventual success in Iraq. We must not be fainthearted in pursuing it.

At the same time, we have to recognize that as Al-Qaeda fades and internecine struggle within Iraq fades too, there remains considerable danger of neighboring Iran successfully making trouble in Iraq. Just last week, Gen. Petraeus warned the Iranians are becoming more active.

Therefore, there are contrary signs, and we can't afford to ignore them. But, still, the balance, the tide of battle, has turned in our direction, and that should be cause for some optimism that in the end we will win this long and costly war, in which nearly 4,000 brave American soldiers have lost their lives.


I'm told by a friend this morning that Sam Zell, prospective new owner of the Tribune Co., with his wife and friends, either has already gone or will shortly leave on a trip to
China and the Middle East, in part to bring himself up to date with developments in these two vital regions.

It is to be hoped that whatever he learns will be turned to good use on the editorial pages of Tribune newspapers, including the L.A. Times, so that some of the craziness that has marked these editorials of late could be diminished.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Preposterous L.A. Times Editorial On Olympics

Along with the distasteful wrap-around advertisement obscuring Page 1 this morning, the L.A. Times, under the damn fool publisher David Hiller, has disgraced itself once again by two nonsensical pie-in-the-sky editorials in the last two days.

Today, the Times advocates that we all eat less meat as a means of combating global warming. Yesterday, the Times advocated "a more modest, openly professional Olympics."

Since I was the Times' lead Olympic correspondent for eight years surrounding the preparations and aftermath of the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, the Olympics editorial disappointed me the most. It showed a complete misunderstanding of what the Olympics are all about, ignored the most significant history of the Olympic movement, and besmirched the Times' long record of supporting and extensively covering the Olympics. Once again, in this matter as in so many others, the Times under Tribune Co. ownership seems greatly desirous of cutting its own throat.

The Olympics, since its modern revival under the Baron Pierre de Coubertin in 1896, has built its immense success fundamentally on a tradition of youth and excellence. The greatest stories of the modern Olympics revolve around personalities like the four-time Olympic discus gold-metalist, Al Oerter, who died last month, and the miracle American ice hockey championships of 1960 and 1980. In track and field, the U.S. Olympic Committee's Olympic trials have brought forth, in Olympics after Olympics, fresh, young faces out of nowhere who became, in the Games, Olympic champions and popular heroes.

Yes, there has been a trend in recent years, under the ill-conceived policies of the International Olympic Committee president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, toward more participation in certain Olympic sports, such as basketball, by professionals. But despite this, the greatest Olympic champions, such as the epic middle-distance runner Sebastian Coe in the 1980 Moscow Games, were amateurs when they won their medals.

So, to advocate a professional Olympics is to go along with a perversion that would do the Games no good. The Games fundamentally must mainly remain the preserve of nonprofessionals.

The editorial in the Times Sunday also cataloged a long and sordid history of drug abuse among some Olympic athletes, such as Marion Jones, the winner of five gold metals in the 2000 games, who has now had to return her medals after she was caught lying about the use of steroids.

However, the fact is that the international Olympic movement has done more by far to combat illicit drug use by athletes than American professional sports -- baseball, basketball and football -- have ever done.

The hypocrisy in the Times editorial can be seen in the fact that the Times has now gone after the Olympics on this score, while ignoring the tremendous corruption in popular American professional sports. Just recently, the Times said little or nothing when Barry Bonds made a new all-time home run record in major league baseball, based, by much evidence, on his use of steroids. The Times may know enough not to take on the NFL, the NBA and major league baseball head-on. Rather, it thinks it can pick on the Olympics.

Sunday's ill-tempered editorial went after every excess of Olympic history the writer could think of, while proclaiming grandiloquently, "that the Olympics never had a period of innocence."

This is utterly wrong, as the great Olympic films of Bud Greenspan, and the coverage of the great late Times sports columnist, Jim Murray, have proved time and time again. For every low moment, the Olympics have had, there have been a host of well-documented heroic moments, and all the attention lavished on the Olympic Games by longtime Times sports editor Bill Dwyre amply demonstrates that over all glorious record. Dwyre, I will speculate, must have been chagrined by yesterday's editorial.

I found, when I covered the Olympics, that there were a great many people who loved to pick on the Games for their imperfections, or the supposed aristocracy of the International Olympic Committee, and among the most common complaints were that the Games were too nationalistic, too often an inappropriate part of world power politics, and so on. There were many suggestions, such as made again by the Times editorial Sunday, that "national medal counting" was a bad thing.

But the fact is that national pride cannot easily be dispensed with at any Olympic Games. There were suggestions, during the Jimmy Carter-led American boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games that national medal counting be done away with. They never received any backing to speak of in Olympic circles, and so much of Olympic tradition centers around the opening ceremonies, the parade of nations, and the playing of national anthems for the medalists, that it is virtually unthinkable that these will be done away with any time in the foreseeable future.

I readily concede that I suggested in this blog in recent weeks, that some pressure be put on China, host of the forthcoming 2008 Beijing Olympics, to become more humane in its dealings with tyrannical regimes, such as the one in Burma, in conjunction with the Olympics. I did so, because I thought there was a reasonable chance the Chinese would bow to such pressure.

This is all part of the Olympics. I found, while covering both the American boycott of the Moscow Games, and, then, the Russian boycott of the Los Angeles Games, that separating politics from the Olympics is well-nigh impossible. (It was not pure coincidence that in the first years I covered the preparations for the Los Angeles Games of 1984 I bore the title of "political writer.)"

But the presence of politics in the Olympics does not mean we should throw out the baby with the bathwater. The Olympics bring too much in peaceful aspirations and international solidarity and idealism to be sacrificed because they also are prone to being used politically.

I really do not understand the Times editorial. California has distinguished itself so many times in the Olympics. Californians win more medals than citizens of any other of the United States. Los Angeles has been the site of two Olympic Games and the Sierra resort of Squaw Valley the site of one other. This state has a high stake in the success of the Olympics and, indeed, Los Angeles is actively bidding for a future Games.

So to write the kind of editorial that appeared in the L.A. Times Sunday provides only further proof that under the Tribune Co., the Times is no longer really a California newspaper. The foolish David Hiller is not a Californian, but that does not mean that the rest of us should forget our great state, or the vital role it has played in the history of the modern Olympics. One day, the Times too, when Hiller is long gone, will again honor that tradition.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Gore Would Be Hillary's Best Choice For VP

Former Sen. Albert Gore, who won a share of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on global warming last week, is probably better qualified to be President than anyone presently in the race in either major political party.

But, as Michael Finnegan outlined in the Los Angeles Times yesterday, for reasons of primary qualification deadlines, lack of preparation, lack of financing, and his own seeming determination not to put himself through this meat-grinder again, Gore in all likelihood will not toss his hat into the ring.

So, I have another idea, which might seem too far out to some. It seems to me that Gore, vice president of the U.S. under President Bill Clinton, would make the best possible running mate for Sen. Hillary Clinton on the Democratic ticket in 2008.

I know, as very fully laid out in Vanity Fair's November, 2007, edition in an article by Sally Bedell Smith, that Gore's relationship with the Clintons, and particularly Hillary, became poor in the last years of the Clinton presidency. In large part, this was because as Hillary emerged in her own right as a national political figure, and decided to run for Senator from New York state, she was more and more perceived as a rival of Gore. She even took from his fund raising to some extent in the 2000 presidential race, and, then, at the end, Gore decided not to even ask Bill Clinton to campaign for him. This was ostensibly to put some political distance between himself and a man whose second term had been tainted by the Lewinsky and other impeachment scandals. But the fact is that if Clinton had campaigned for Gore, if only in Arkansas, Gore would have won the electoral college as well as the popular vote, and been elected President. The race was so close that just winning Arkansas (much less his home state of Tennessee) would have put Gore over the top.

Now, it might immediately be said that since the Clintons came in the end not to like Gore, this rules him out for the vice presidency, and he does not have an inclination in any event to repeat an earlier stage of his life.

But the fact is that frequently in past history, some one has been chosen as a running mate not because he or she was liked by the presidential candidate, but simply to balance the ticket or bring something to it it doesn't have already. This was certainly the case in 1960 when John F. Kennedy took Lyndon Johnson on the ticket with him. It was true also in 1952 when Dwight D. Eisenhower selected Richard Nixon as his running mate, and there are other examples. Franklin D. Roosevelt took John Nance Garner of Texas on the ticket with him in 1932. Theodore Roosevelt was put on William McKinley's ticket in 1900, in part for balance, but in part to "get rid" of him as a political figure that seemed to menace mainstream Republicanism by shunting him to a "do-nothing" vice presidency.

Of course, sometimes it doesn't work out as planned. When McKinley and Kennedy were assassinated, Roosevelt and Johnson became presidents.

It might also be suggested that Gore would simply tell Clinton no, saying he had already done that. But the fact is that when the President, or a prospective President, calls on someone, the person usually feels constrained to say yes. It's not easy to refuse a strong request by the head of the ticket.

It seems rather obvious, also, that Clinton needs a settled figure of experience as a running mate, and one that is not going to add to her challenge of becoming the first woman to be elected President.

If Clinton takes her challenger, Sen. Barack Obama, onto the ticket, or even Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, she finds herself in some people's eyes, presenting what my L.A. Times colleague, Nick Williams, Jr., used to call a "double negative."

The Times' old View section didn't simply like stories about people who had just one handicap, Williams would say. It liked to find people with two: mentally-retarded Hispanics, atheistic Jews, etc.

So, if you assume, as I do, that Clinton is going to have to jump some hurdles to become President, because of her sex, it would be silly for her to present to the country a ticket with the first woman AND the first African-American, or the first woman AND the first Hispanic. Even in what looks increasingly like a Democratic year, that could simply turn out to be too much for the bigots to take, and we have more bigots than many of us imagine.

But if Clinton, who does look more and more as the most likely Democratic nominee, does not take Obama or Richardson, who will she take? Certainly, not former Sen. John Edwards, who is not as appealing to the electorate now as he was when he was Sen. John Kerry's running mate.

Well, there are any number of possibilities other than Gore, and vice presidential candidates have not always been all that well known. But I still feel Gore would bring substance to the ticket, and give voters new reasons to vote for it.

Would they be able to get along in the end? Well, politics frequently in the past, and certainly will in the future, makes strange bedfellows. I think another Clinton-Gore ticket would make sense, even if it did seem slightly old hat.

Gore, as vice president, could do even more prominent work on the global warming issue, than he has already done, and could be a new Clinton Administration's ambassador of good will on what it bound to become an ever more important issue. That too, I think, would appeal to him.


No one, absolutely no one, has done the job of reporting the Iraq war as well as the New York Times' John Burns. Today, in the newspaper's Week in Review section, Burns writes about giving shelter at the Times' Baghdad bureau to starving cats, driven to his office by the atrocious violence in the city of Baghdad.

Now that Burns has moved on to the Times' London bureau, he has managed to take several of the cats with him, despite all the onerous bureaucratic restrictions, a six-month quarantine in Britain, and so forth.

I loved this story, in part because I love cats myself, have always had one, and my present cat, Skipper, is really a cherished member of my household at age 15. Nothing Burns could have written was as revealing of his admirable, mellow personality as his story about the dozens of cats of the New York Times Baghdad bureau.

The Baghdad cats are, like everyone else, startled by the sounds of suicide bombings. But, Burns writes, they somehow are able to program this sound in their brains, and when they hear more bombings, they don't turn a hair.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

"Truth Syrum" Unmasks Lawmaker Fabian Nunez

An exotic truth serum that I obtained from a source in the Bay Area and sprayed in the offices of Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez in Sacramento has allowed me to obtain a frank account of his spending habits, and thereby add to the revealing articles by Nancy Vogel and Steve Lopez in the L.A. Times about his use of campaign contributions.

Here's the interview:

Q--How do you explain your huge expenditures on luxuries?
A--I love to live high off the hog and when I achieved my present legislative position I decided that now was an opportunity to do it at others' expense.

Q--But is this a proper use of campaign contributions?
A--In my office, we don't call them contributions. We use the word "bribes." And those can be used for anything.

Q--But what about your fiduciary duties to the people of California?
A--Fiduciary? I've never heard of that word. But, often, if you mean, defending the public interest, I've done that. It's true, for instance, that I spent $2,562 at Louis Vuitton in Paris for gifts for people who hosted me on my high-speed rail trip to Europe. But they had succeeded in convincing me the TGV trains were too good for California, and by coming out against building such lines when I returned, I saved my constituents billions of dollars of construction costs.

Q-- What purpose, then, was served by your spending $8,745 at the Hotel Arts in Barcelona?
A--Actually, a lot of that went for party girls. I don't like to be without female companionship and since a woman ditched me for someone else, I've felt very lonely on these foreign trips. I'm frequently jet-lagged. I need a little pick-me-up.

Q--I see you spent $5,149 on a "meeting" at Cave L'Avant Garde, a wine seller in Bordeaux. What was that all about?
A--I only bought cheap wines for my companions on that excursion. It was the 150-year-old bottles I bought for myself that ran up the bill.

Q--And how about the $1,480 tab you accumulated at a "meeting" at the Llao Llao Hotel & Restaurant in Bariloche, Argentina?
A--I can't remember too much about that, because I blacked out. All I recall is that the Argentine women are beautiful. Most of them are of Italian descent, you know.

Q--And the $848 "meeting" at the French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley?
A--We got off cheap, because we only had hors' d'oeuvres. That's when the woman broke up with me. She said any decent man would have paid for a full meal. But my contributions had fallen short for once, and I follow one rule religiously: I never spend my own money when I can possibly help it.

Q--What about the $250 you spent at Mike's Bikes in Sacramento?
A--I don't remember the little expenditures.

Q--I see that Vogel is quoting you as saying you may have "put my foot in my mouth a little bit" when you compared your life style to "how most middle class people live."
A--Yes, I was warned by a relative that that statement could get me shot in the Los Angeles barrio. So I thought it was prudent to retreat a bit.

Q--You paid $1,000 for office cookies?
A--Yes, nothing is too good for the contributors who visit me at my office. My mother used to make almond cookies, but these are ever so much better. And these chumps give me so much.

Q--If you can remember, what was the $317 for at a Sacramento shoe store?
A--I do remember that. Imelda Marcos was coming to town and I wanted to show her I could wear nice shoes too.

Q--What is your reaction to the decision by the State Fair Political Practices Commission to audit your campaign accounts?
A--If these do-gooders get in my face, we'll legislate them out of business by withdrawing all money for their budget.

Q--Who do you think has spent the most, you or Gov. Schwarzenegger?
A--I hope I have, but I can't be certain. He's got corrupt people on his staff I would never dream of hiring, and he pays them extra out of campaign funds. Just today, I hear the governor vetoed our bill to require that infection and death rates at California hospitals be made public. I would never cater to the hospital lobby in that way. Now, that is real corruption.

Q-- I see you've said you may not accept invitations to visit Mexico and Asia.
A--Yes, once you've been to Paris and Barcelona, Mexico and Asia seem like small potatoes.

Q--What on Earth will you do when you are term-limited out?
A--Well I see my friend Richard Alatorre is now lobbying the Los Angeles City Council. You can't keep a good dog down.

Q--Thank you.
A--Thank you. That truth serum certainly smells good. Where do you think I can get some more to sniff occasionally?


Friday, October 12, 2007

Smoking Surcharge Is New Low For Tribune Co.

In the entire inept and squalid record of CEO Dennis FitzSimons and his lackey, David Hiller, at the Tribune Co., there is no greater low than was reached this week with the announcement that beginning New Year's, the company will charge Tribune-employed smokers and their family members who smoke a $100-a-month surcharge on their health insurance.

I do not smoke, but this sad innovation can only be viewed as the beginning of a new effort by this stinking corporation to impose ever more onerous and unacceptable conditions on its unhappy employees, so unfortunate as to fall into the grip of men who make the old corporate robber barons seem almost generous in comparison.

This, clearly, is only the first such step. Pretty soon, if its gets away with it (and there are already grievances pending), Tribune will be imposing surcharges for drinking, for obesity, for having had cancer, and a whole host of other conditions which will eviscerate the whole traditional meaning of health insurance.

Health insurance in American business has generally covered all workers and their families equally. Now, this vital principle is to be scrapped, and it is not a long way to Nazi-style genetic testing to determine which employees are liable to live longest, and which debilitating diseases they are likely to have. Then, those ill-fated people will be made to pay through the nose for any health insurance at all.

I thought there was a smell in the room when Hiller recently addressed the Times retired employees association. Now, we know what it was. This poor excuse for a publisher was fixing not only to pester the employees with a personal "blog" they will not be able to avoid, but now he is going to alter toward oblivion the most basic employee benefits. It is indeed sadistic.

What a contrast with the old days of Chandler family ownership of the L.A. Times and other Times-Mirror newspapers. Because the Chandlers, despite occasional faults, realized that a happy work force is a skillful work force, and the many benefits they gave their employees were consistent with the best employment practices in the country.

No more. From the very first days of Tribune ownership of all these newspapers, there has been a veritable plot to denigrate both the quality of the papers and the lives of their employees.

The latest move is what we have come to expect from Dennis FitzSimons (Legree). Fortunately, Teamsters who already represent some employees at the Baltimore Sun have filed grievances, noting that the new health insurance surcharges violate the contracts under which they work.

We can only hope that the National Labor Relations Board will move in on these wrongdoers, reverse their surcharges and levy a large punitive fine on the scoundrels.

Another feature of the new Tribune insurance provisions is that family members who could be covered under health insurance at other firms will be charged a $75-a-month surcharge if they enroll in Tribune insurance.

The whole insurance industry is bad news. We find in every disaster -- from Katrina to personal disability -- that these dishonest companies squirm to avoid fair claims payments. But the new Tribune health surcharges will give even insurance a bad name, and if this company gets away with it, other companies are sure to follow.

Kevin Roderick, the LA Observed proprietor who has, to his credit, taken a more and more jaundiced view of FitzSimons, Hiller and company, does us the service of quoting Michael Mayo, a columnist at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, on what all this means.

"Naturally, this makes me wonder what other unhealthy sins will be surcharged in coming years," Mayo writes. "Will there be fees for alcohol use? Eating fast food? Having high cholesterol? Not adhering to proper weight/body mass guidelines? The other thing that gets me is that there's no reward for not being a smoker. If the company imposed a surcharge on smokers and then gave a proportionate break to all the non-smokers, I could maybe be a little more positive about the whole thing."

Don't get me wrong. I don't think smoking is a good idea. But I have to recognize that for millions of people, it is a hard habit to shake. Now, in addition to the diseases caused by smoking that may ultimately end their lives prematurely, those of them unfortunate enough to work for Tribune Co., are going to have to pay this surcharge, if this bunch gets away with it.


Former Sen. and Democratic Presidential candidate Al Gore is sharing this year's Nobel Peace Prize with the United Nations for his pioneering work on global warming. This has come about just at the right time, when global warming is absorbing more and more public attention, and there have been new, innovative ideas about how to deal with it. One, this week, was to place solar panels like satellites high above the Earth to generate electricity and send it by geomagnetic relay to Earth. The originators believe this could provide all the electric power the Earth needs.

It is probably too late for Gore to run in the 2008 election for President, and, having seen him recently when he was interviewed by CNN's Larry King, I wonder if he has improved any as a public speaker. But, still, congratulations to him are certainly in order. Many men, after the discouraging results in 2000, when he won the popular vote but lost the Presidency, would have retired to private life. For Gore, his public life was only beginning.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Turkey Hurts Only Itself By Denying Genocide

A courageous U.S. House Foreign Relations committee voted 27-21 yesterday to recognize the facts about the murder of more than a million Armenians in Turkey in 1915.

This morning, Turkey's president, Abdullah Gul, condemned the vote and said it would harm relations between the U.S. and Turkey. Gul is another of these Muslims who would rather defend barbaric conduct anathema to the modern world than to adhere to humanitarian principles. He hasn't been president of Turkey long, but already he appears determined to stamp himself and his country an outlaw.

Later, Turkey recalled its ambassador to the United States and cancelled a Naval minister's visit to the U.S. It is seeking to roll over the Congress and somehow validate the genocide. This is a direct consequence of trends in Turkey that have been clear for some time now. Regardless of Turkish threats and actions, Congress should persevere with its stand.

Turkey has been slipping more and more under the grip of Islamic fundamentalism, spelling an end to the progressive and secular policies initiated by Ataturk after World War I. What a tragedy, most of all for the Turks, who are systematically destroying any chance they have to be accepted into the European Union. What Gul and his associates are doing would put the fez back on the heads of every male Turk and relegate that country to a backwater of Europe.

Also, Turkey is threatening to stop what it calls its support of U.S. efforts in neighboring Iraq. But the fact is that at the beginning of the second Iraq war in 1991, Turkey would not allow U.S. troops or supplies to cross over Turkish territory into northern Iraq and adopted a position of neutrality on the war.

More recently, Turkey has repeatedly threatened to invade northern Iraq itself, particularly Kurdistan, in a move to crush Kurdish rebels working for a separate Kurdistan to be carved partly out of Turkey. The Turkish premier, Recep Erdogan, an even more rabid Muslim than the Turkish president, has threatened a complete rupture with the U.S. if there is American resistance to a Turkish invasion of northern Iraq.

Ataturk successfully withstood efforts after 1918 to dismember the Turkish state. But the present regime may end in only facilitating it.

The U.S. has been a friend of Turkey for a long time, and, in 1947, gave major aid to both Turkey and Greece to forestall aggression from the Soviet Union. But if Turkey breaks ties now, so be it. Under those circumstances, we should support Kurdish aspirations to make southeastern Turkey a part of a Kurdish state. The vast majority of the population of southeastern Turkey is of Kurdish descent.

It is time for the Turkish government to recognize the 1915 genocide and begin to make amends for it, as the Germans have done with the Holocaust of World War II.

What the country's unsavory president is now trying to do, as much as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is doing in neighboring Iran, is to deny past genocides, perhaps in a move to generate new ones.

Congress should stick by its guns. It's high time we called these murders what they are, in part out of respect for Armenian immigrants to the U.S., in part simply because it is the right thing to do. In Germany, in Cambodia, in Rwanda, the world once stood aside while millions of innocents were murdered. Now, it is high time we should say, never again. It's a shame if that costs us past friends, but that is sometimes the price we have to pay for defending liberty.


David Hiller, the Chicago-toady who has been sent to California to run the Los Angeles Times, now says he is going to do a blog internally at the Times, to talk about more nonsense, I suppose, such as running ads on Page 1.

And, foolishly, Hiller has arrogated onto himself a right to censor comments about this blog, and to ban all anonymous comments.

Under these circumstances, the only people I would think would comment would be James O'Shea, David Lauter and Marc Duvoisin, all of whom owe their jobs to Hiller.

Hiller is no blogger. He does not believe in freedom of speech. He is a propagandist, and there should be no support of his "blog." What we see also in this move is a reason by the Times should avoid printing blogs, such as the wishy-washy one of political bloggers Don Frederick and Andrew Malcolm. Blogs are meant to be provocative, not to be the platform for corporate lackeys.

As for his wish that everything he says be private within the company, we'll see how long it takes before Kevin Roderick is quoting from it in L.A. Observed. So I'd warn Hiller not to go into inappropriate matters, beyond boasting of his friendship with Kevin Starr and Donald Rumsfeld, or talking about how superior he considers Chicago food.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Japan Begins Moon Exploration; China & India Soon

On Oct. 5, just one day after the 50th anniversary of the Soviets firing the first Earth satellite, Sputnik, into orbit, Japan scored its greatest success yet of its space effort, placing an unmanned observatory in orbit around the moon.

This is the most extensive moon mission since the American Apollo 17, and it presages a whole series of moon explorations and robotic landings before man returns to the moon for the first time since 1972. The U.S. plans this by 2020, but others may land men there sooner.

The Japanese lunar probe, named Kaguya after a princess in Japanese folklore, is formally called the SELenological and ENgineering Explorer (SELENE) and it will orbit the moon from an altitude of about 62 miles for a year, taking pictures, extensively mapping both the side of the moon presented to Earth, and the other (dark) side, examining the moon's gravity and magnetic fields and even conducting a search for the water that would facilitate longtime human habitation.

Already, the probe has jettisoned one of two 110-pound baby satellites that will help create a detailed gravity map of the moon and the other will be jettisoned on Oct. 14.

The trip from Earth to the vicinity of the moon took three weeks and was the culmination of an effort that had been delayed four years. It is costing the Japanese $480 million.

Meanwhile, the Chinese, which has put its first men into Earth orbit, have announced plans to launch their Chang'e-1 moon exploration vehicle by the end of the year, and India has plans to launch its Chandrayaan-1 probe next year.

The U.S. also plans next year to launch NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. This is the first of the missions it will send to the moon in preparation for another manned landing. The probe will be placed in low polar orbit around the moon and be directed at examining the environment there, with particular emphasis on discovering any ice that exists. This probe, like the Japanese, will be in orbit about a year. Instruments are already being assembled, and the goal is a launching around the end of the year.

Needless to say, the Japanese, Chinese and Indian efforts may be a spur to the U.S. It is possible, and I think desirable, for budgetary allocations to NASA to increase.

A manned lunar station is probably a vital precursor to an eventual manned probe to Mars, and it is possible that such an expedition would use the moon as a launching base, since its lesser gravity makes such a mission easier from there than from Earth.

All this is of the highest moment, as man begins to organize a Mars mission, and, at about the same time, a mission to near Earth asteroids. A manned mission to Europa, a moon of Jupiter believed to have oceans of frozen methane, may eventually follow.

The Japanese lunar probe hasn't gotten a great deal of press attention in the U.S. The L.A. Times gave just a short to the news that the probe had entered moon orbit. It was worth a lot more than that. However, the Times did run a story from the Chicago Tribune on experimentations with a developing moon rover on moon-like terrain in Arizona. This rover is expected to have a 200-kilometer range, compared to the 10-kilometer range of rovers in the Apollo program, and to carry two astronauts.


LA Observed quotes Sam Zell, whose ownership of the Tribune Co. may, according to speculation in the last week, become final by Oct. 24, as telling a Beverly Hills audience that he will not put the L.A. Times up for sale.

But as for the Chicago Cubs, Zell said they are definitely on the block. "I have no idea who's going to end up with the Cubs," Zell said. "But it ain't going to be me." The Tribune Co. owns the Cubs, but said some time ago it would sell the team by the end of the year. The Cubs have not won a World Series since 1908, and went down to the Arizona Diamondbacks in this year's divisional championships in three straight games.