Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Stock Analysts Show Contempt For LAT On Frontline

Tuesday night's comprehensive look at the L.A. Times situation on Frontline was mostly fair to those parties interviewed, and what it showed very clearly was the contempt that two Wall Street stock analysts have for even the idea of the L.A. Times as a paper that covers the nation and the world.

Both Charles Bobrinskoy, vice president of Ariel Capital Management, and Lauren Rich Fine, director of the Merrill Lynch firm that nearly bankrupted Orange County, suggested that with the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today, America already has enough national newspapers, and that the L.A. Times could best serve its readership by emphasizing only local news and leave the more complicated subjects to those papers.

By saying that the war in Iraq need be covered only by the Eastern press, they were saying Californians and other Americans should have no real interest in what goes on there and leave it all to the liberal cosmopolitans of the Council on Foreign Relations and a few likeminded Eastern reporters.

With such an attitude, no wonder Wall Street has helped plunge the Tribune Co. into such dire difficulty. The recommendations of such analysts, and their utter contempt for the newspaper industry and what they believe are the parochial interests of readers, have helped drive Tribune stock prices to new lows. This morning, with the stock drop off yesterday, Tribune was under $30 a share.

Bobrinskoy and Fine are the kind of Easterners who don't believe there is anything worthwhile west of the Hudson River. They ought to climb in their cars, if they do anything but take the subway, and drive West to see the great, diverse country that's out there. They need to be convinced that Westerners are just as worthy as Easterners in understanding and participating in national and world issues.

The program, conducted by Frontline's Lowell Bergman, gave both former Times editors, John Carroll and Dean Baquet, plenty of time to defend their point of view that journalism is a public service and that the Times should be a cosmopolitan paper. Both did a fine job. Kevin Roderick reported this morning that those who he checked with thought Baquet was "the winner in a knockout."

The new Times publisher, David Hiller, came across on the program as somewhat neutral. To his credit, he did say the Times would continue to cover world and national affairs, but he also defended his ouster of Baquet. He was not dressed, nor did he come across, as much like a Californian, for the obvious reason that he is not one.

The inept Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons and his "axis of stupidity" that runs Tribune did not appear on the program, leaving it to Hiller to defend Chicago's positions. Later, there were reports that the Frontline interview with him had been pared unreasonably, and an interview with the current L.A. Times editor, James O'Shea, left on the cutting room floor altogether, although it has now been posted on Frontline's Web site. Both Hiller and O'Shea, in the online versions, strongly defended L.A. Times worldwide coverage.

(In one piece of good news, Times Foreign Editor Marjorie Miller has posted word of assignment of a new team in the Middle East, three new correspondents in Baghdad, and new bureau chiefs in Cairo and Beirut. Megan Stack, who has been covering both Cairo and Beirut, will go to Moscow, where her talents will undoubtedly be put to good use. Thanks goodness, Miller, and apparently Hiller and O'Shea as well, are not following the stock analysts' advice).

When Los Angeles entrepreneur Eli Broad appeared on the program, he said that if he obtained ownership of the L.A. Times, he would be satisfied with a return on his investments of as little as 5 to 8% a year, as compared to the 20% that Tribune has been demanding.

This drew only contempt from Bobrinskoy, who observed that only a private owner, not a shareholder, would ever take such a position. His comments may be important, because his firm owns a 6% share of outstanding Tribune Co. stock.

Greed -- not the public interest -- is the only salient characteristic of Wall Street. That came through clearly on the program. But it is misplaced greed as well, since Wall Street's advice has actually helped cause the decline of the fortunes of newspapers, while new investment in them would likely stop it.

To his credit, O'Shea issued a statement today taking issue, particularly with Bobrinskoy.

"Mr. Bobrinskoy knows as much about newspapers and the needs and news appetites of the readers of the Los Angeles Times as I know about astrophysics," O'Shea said. "Everyone should keep in mind that 'analysts' of the stock market are the same ones who advised people to buy stocks such as Enron. I could fill the Grand Canyon with the misinformation that people such as Bobrinskoy have spread. So I think everyone should look at his comments in that context. I have never heard anyone at Tribune Co. advocate that the Los Angeles Times should become a paper without foreign or national bureaus. I doubt he represents anyone's views but his own. I certainly don't think he is right, and I never would have agreed to be your editor if such a preposterous proposal were part of any deal."

I'd really give this a hardy cheer, were O'Shea not, undoubtedly on Chicago orders, been planning to fold Current and the Book Review together, cut their content and move the section to Saturday's paper, when fewer will go out. This continues the Tribune cut backs which have treated the Times as if it were an unwanted step child for seven terrible years.

The editor of Current, Nick Goldberg, should have been removed long ago. He and his wife are both enemies of California, she even wrote a book slamming the state.

Kit Rachlis, once with the Times editorial pages, noted above a Los Angeles magazine article about the Times last week, "I worked at the L.A. Times from 1994 to 2000, and watching what's occurred there in the past few years -- massive job cuts, a severe decline in circulation, distant owners insistent on obscenely high profit margins -- has filled me with sadness."

Bill Boyarsky chimes in on his blog, calling a Times editorial on county government last Sunday "unbearably long, condescending, pompous and just plain dumb."

Who knows less about the newspaper business? Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons, Bobrinskoy, Fine or Times editorial pages editor Andres Martinez.? Bobrinskoy, Fine and Martinez are vying for most ignorant, but I'm afraid FitzSimons wins hands down.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Spotlight On Afghanistan And Terror Threat

There are many warnings of a spring offensive by the Taliban out of what has become a privileged sanctuary in the North Waziristan border areas of Pakistan, and both the United States and Britain have increased their forces in Afghanistan to deal with it.

An American brigade of the 10th Mountain Division has been extended in Afghanistan, bringing American strength there to 27,000, one of the largest, if not the largest, American contingent there since the Taliban was ousted in 2001. The British are sending 1,400 more troops, bringing the total of Brits to 7,700. Dutch and Canadian troops are also present in Afghanistan as part of the NATO force, and there are small French, German and Italian contingents which are presently being withheld from combat operations in the south.

This morning, there are headlines about a Taliban suicide attack against the big Bagram AFB north of Kabul at a moment when Vice President Cheney was on the base visiting. Cheney was not hurt, but as many as 23 persons were killed in the attack at the base gate.

There is little question that there is more support in American public opinion for the anti-terror operations in Afghanistan than in Iraq. Even such a devoted war critic as columnist Frank Rich in the New York Times warned in a column Sunday that we must not stint in our efforts against both the Taliban and its Al Qaeda associates, which apparently have set up training camps in Pakistan and where Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda command may be hiding. Democrats in Congress and in the 2008 Presidential race are, in contrast to Iraq, not opposing U.S. operations in Afghanistan, because they realize the threat there exists.

Rich quotes former CIA bin Laden task force head, Michael Scheuer, as predicting on MSNBC that Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders "are going to detonate a nuclear device inside the United States."

There is as yet no evidence that they have such a device to detonate, but it does seem clear that the terrorists are making every attempt to obtain weapons of mass destruction that they can use against America. This would be the ultimate catastrophe in the War on Terror, and undoubtedly would lead to an American nuclear response against Arab and Taliban targets. It would surely turn the present conflict into a world war.

Before he went to Afghanistan, Cheney visited Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and reportedly delivered a strong American warning against further coddling of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The Bush Administration has been alarmed since Musharraf entered into an agreement with the terrorists to withdraw the Pakistani army from the border regions in exchange for a pledge, since proved worthless, to desist from organizing further attacks in Afghanistan.

The duplicity of Muslim extremists is unlimited. They simply cannot be trusted to abandon attacks because of conciliatory moves. We see this also recently in Thailand, where the new military government tried conciliating Muslim separatists in the south, only to see their attacks expanded. The New York Times had an article Monday on an expanding number of murders of Buddhists living in the south of Thailand by the Muslim fanatics. Two thousand have already died in this conflict, which many Americans are unaware of.

Rich is not the only commentator alarmed by the present prospects in Afghanistan, nor the only one to accuse President Bush of fighting the wrong war by concentrating on Iraq, when, as Rich puts it, the headquarters of America's enemies are in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"Five years after 9/11, the terrorists would seem to have us just where they want us -- asleep -- even as the system is blinking red once again," he writes.

I'm sure the President is not asleep to the danger. American aid is being stepped up to the Afghan regime of Hamid Karzai.

At the same time, the U.S. must consider an assault by heavy bombing against Al Qaeda and Taliban installations in Pakistan. The problem is this could destabilize the Musharraf regime, and we have to be aware that Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons which we want, at all costs, to prevent falling into terrorist hands. Already suicide bombings have been stepped up against the Pakistan government, an ominous warning.

The only policy to follow with bin Laden and the rest of the terrorist leadership is to find them and kill them. We cannot afford to spare any effort in this regard.


Monday, February 26, 2007

United Flight 6410: Another Airline Snafu

Southwest Airlines, which usually knows what it's doing, recently decided to fly again to San Francisco Airport, after being assured the expanded airport was not subject to as many delays, weather and otherwise, as in the past.

But judging from what happened to me Monday on United Airlines, Flight 6410, San Francisco to Burbank, Southwest ought to reconsider.

On a day when it was raining, but not too hard, most of the day, San Francisco Airport was very slow. Planes were taking off and landing, but not at any kind of rate which would satisfy the exacting on-time standards of Southwest. Most flights were late in takeoffs by an hour or two.

But that was not all of the problems of United Flight 6410, as it turned out. And the experience raised questions as to whether United really has recovered from bankruptcy and is a fit choice for travel.

The plane was due out of San Francisco at 1:51 p.m. and due in at Burbank at 2:59 p.m. In fact, it didn't depart until 5:10 p.m., and it landed at Burbank at about 6:10 p.m.

Part of the problem certainly was the weather. I was sitting near the United check-in counter for the flight, and it seemed from the many story changes of the ticket agent that United was improvising between 2 and 4 p.m.

During that time, we were apparently scheduled out on two different planes, with three different crews assigned. There was a period when every passenger who came up to ask about the status of the flight was told something slightly different.

First, the agent said, our plane was on the ground, but a crew member was late in reporting. He would be in in a half an hour, and we would be out by 3 p.m., he said.

Then, it was an entire crew that was missing. It was coming from Sacramento and would be in to San Francisco at 2:17 p.m. Then, we would board in 15 minutes.

Then, that crew disappeared, and now we were going to fly with a crew flying a plane in from Salt Lake City. The plane on the ground was no longer in the equation, and the new plane and crew would be in at 2:53 p.m.

At about 3:20 p.m., that flight arrived. But now it was going to be a new crew that would take us to Burbank. That crew did not arrive for awhile, and then it took 20 minutes to check the plane.

United improvisations did keep most flights operating, even if late. While I was waiting, United cancelled only one flight, and that was to Monterey. The airline offered ground transportation to those passengers to the Monterey airport.

We finally boarded our flight at 4 p.m. But our troubles were not over.

At 4:05 p.m., the pilot announced that a power pump used to ignite our turbo-prop engines (this was a rather small, Canadair-produced plane) was not functioning. "It will be five or 10 more minutes," said the pilot. "We're bringing in an auxiliary power pump."

A half hour later, I overheard a member of the ground crew say, "It's not starting," and a few minutes later the pilot came back on the airplane's P.A. system and announced that the auxiliary power pump United had produced didn't work either. "We're sending over to Delta Airlines, and they are loaning us a pump," he said.

But another 20 minutes passed and the Delta pump didn't show up. Now, the pilot told us, "Delta is clear across the airport. We've asked them to hurry up."

However, the pump did not arrive until the co-pilot, identified by the stewardess as David Robinson, got off the plane, had a short discussion with the ground crew, finally visibly threw his hands into the air out in front of the plane, and went back into the terminal to use a telephone. Throughout this part of the delay, the United ground crew seemed lackadaisical. Perhaps they had suffered too many salary and benefit reductions during United's protracted bankruptcy.

I don't know what the co-pilot said on the phone, because I wasn't there. But about 10 minutes later, the pump arrived, and it was able to start the engine immediately.

We still sat at the gate for another 10 minutes. Time is apparently not much of a factor at United Airlines.

But we finally took off, and at least the baggage delivery at the other end of the flight, in Burbank, was fairly prompt.

During the delays, the United stewardess was quite accommodating, and offered everyone soft drinks and snacks.

But still, I am forced to the conclusion that United doesn't have working replacement equipment, isn't very candid about how long delays are liable to last, and is forced to improvise, ultimately successfully, but only after hours of delays.

Southwest, in my experience, would be better.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

FitzSimons Returns To Tactics That Don't Work

Written from San Carlos, California

Dennis FitzSimons, incorrigibly inept CEO of the Tribune Co. is apparently back to the same tactics he used that didn't work last June. He wants to assume more debt, and cut back the Tribune's faltering newspapers even more.

That is unless he accepts a last-minute proposal from Chicago real estate magnate Sam Zell to buy the company. But that too would mean assuming more debt, and probably cutting back newspapers outside Chicago. Has Zell even visited Los Angeles?

To the end of further cutbacks,, word has spread that Tribune intends to fold the L.A. Times Book Review into the Current section. Save a little money, while curtailing coverage of many books, reducing the number of letters the paper runs, even while most newspapers are increasing reader comments. It's all depressingly familiar.

This is the axis of stupidity at work. Keep cutting back, circulation will fall, layoffs will be repeated, and ultimately these newspapers will all fail miserably.

Yes,, the bids for Tribune are disappointing, but they were bound to be, what with the firing of editor Dean Baquet and other executives and the foisting of incompetent new leadership on the Times and other former Times-Mirror papers.

After entertainment mogul David Geffen created a scene in the Democratic race for President last week, dissing Sen. Hilary Clinton and embarrassing Sen. Barack Obama, it began to appear that he might not be the best buyer of the L.A. Times.

Still, the Times can hardly do worse than it's doing now. Even Zell might be better than FitzSimons.

A new round of cutbacks is probably around the corner. And, as I've remarked before, Californians hate losers, they will not stand by losers. So the Times will do nothing but go on down. By the time a sale takes place, the newspaper may not be much.

FitzSimons must have been eating too much Chicago food. His brain does not work properly.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Democrats Will Not Be Able To Force Iraq Pullout

--Written From Ashland, Oregon

I think it's safe to reaffirm my prediction just after the November election that the Democrats do not have enough strength in Congress to force any course on President Bush as far as leaving Iraq is concerned.

If they were to come even close, it could be that Sen. Joseph Lieberman would cross party lines and become a Republican, thus handing control of the Senate to the Republicans.

But it will not come to that. Fortunately for the country, either major course for anti-war Democrats, cut off funding or revoke the war authorization vote of 2002, cannot command majority support in the Senate, and probably not in the House. The proposal of Rep. John Murtha that such restrictions be put on new troop deployments as to cripple the American effort, cannot command more than negligible Congressional support.

Of course, it takes 60 votes in the Senate to force an actual vote on anything. Even on the non-binding resolution against President Bush's troop "surge," the Democrats could not entice enough Republicans to bring matters to a vote.

But with either the funding cutoff, or revocation of the war authorization, the Democratic doves could not even come close. For one thing, other present Democrats beyond Lieberman would not be united on a course.

So the real question for the time being is how the war is going, and will the new U.S. security plan for Baghdad be successful?

The initial signs are not good. There have been a number of reports that, as in the past, the Iraqis are not really stepping up to the plate, and without their cooperation, American troops in Baghdad are liable to take more casualties but not succeed in damping down the sectarian violence in the city.

With its ethnic divisions, Iraq is prey to the kind of strategy Al Qaeda has been following -- do everything they can to incide Sunni-Shiite division.

So what can be done? I feel for the time being the best course is to fight the Sunni insurgency, which includes Al Qaeda and foreign Arab fighters, seek more Kurd involvement elsewhere in the country, and continue to put more pressure on the Maliki regime to cooperate with U.S. war aims.

It's not going to be a democracy in Iraq, but it may be an authoritarian democracy of sorts.

Other than that, Mr. Bush has two years to try and accomplish something in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. Crushing Al Qaeda, killing Osama bin Laden, that must be our overall priority.

In 2008, unless the Democrats fall into the trap of nominating a McGovernite like John Edwards or Barack Obama, they probably will win the Presidency. Then it will be up to them. For the next two years, it is going to be up to George W. Bush.


Friday, February 23, 2007

Ashland, Oregon Snowed In, But Not Seriously

--Written From Ashland, Oregon

I've been coming to Ashland for 23 years, but not usually in the winter, and this occasion, the opening of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for 2007, is the first time there's ever been snow on the ground. Four inches. The entire Rogue River Valley is white.

It was on a backpacking trip that someone first mentioned the annual Festival to me. Every year, there are seven non-Shakespearean plays and four Shakespearean. It is one of the great travel experiences of the West, and I recommend it unreservedly. I usually come in the summer for a week of eight plays, lectures, dinners, and have stayed in the same bed and breakfast all that time. In fact, on this occasion, the host is putting me up free, since he's not in town.

Come to Oregon! It's good for you. And there are many attractions here, Crater Lake is little more than an hour's drive away. The Redwood Highway is two hours. There's Oregon Caves and the great fruit stores of Medford.

And the plays are marvelous. This is one of the best theatres in the United States and it gets about 300,000 visitors a year.


My experience in political reporting is that often two candidates knock each other out of the running, and the party that has a big and bitter primary fight often does not win the election.

That happened last year in the California governor's race, when Angelides and Westly waged such a dirty primary fight, that Angelides in effect won nothing when he won it, and was not a potent candidate in the fall.

So Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have to be careful. Many rounds like this week's David Geffen dustup and both may be fatally compromised.

The candidates who looked better on the Democratic side this week were New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has impressive credentials, and former Sen. John Edwards, who, in my view, really doesn't. (Any trial lawyer who tells you he's telling you the truth, when the others aren't doesn't have too much credibility).

But Richardson and Edwards stayed above the fray this week, while Clinton and Obama sniped at each other.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Enemy Use Of Chlorine Gas In Iraq Ominous

It was a year ago today that Sunni insurgents, following the plan of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to provoke sectarian war with Iraqi Shiites, bombed the golden-domed mosque in Samarra, a Shiite shrine, beginning a new, ever more violent stage of the Iraqi war.

Now, with their high regard for anniversaries, the terrorists have begun using poison gas, in the form of chlorine truck bombs, in the Baghdad area. There have already been three such incidents, according to today's New York Times, and there have been deaths, despite the fact that the vile killers are just learning. They aren't skillful at releasing the gas yet, but I would imagine they will be.

Today, U.S. troops raided a bomb-making factory near Falluja and uncovered five bombs in the process of being laced by what were described as ordinary chemicals, aimed, it seemed, at inspiring fear in Iraqi civilians.

When are the American people going to wake up? The threat from al-Qaeda and other assorted Muslim crazies is growing, yet public opinion in this country, especially in the Democratic party, seems to believe there is an easy, painless way out of this war.

They are mistaken. There isn't any easy way out, and unless the killers are eliminated, their aggression will continually spread to new places in the world. The last two weeks, there has been one terrorist threat after another. in Asia, Africa and elsewhere. All of those charged with preventing the violence are on alert, and nervous.

I felt when the Democrats won the Congressional elections in November that they would ultimately feel constrained to take some responsibility for waging a war which threatens American and all Western civilization, as much as the Huns did ancient Rome. Up to now, however, the developing Democratic presidential campaign has been an exercise in one-upsmanship, a contest to see which candidate can be for quitting the war the fastest.

It may still be the case, though, that public opinion will turn. The reaction to the use of poison gas by the enemy may turn some heads, but it may not be until there is some major terrorist attack outside of Iraq, before opinion will turn around.

Right now, President Bush is the fall guy. Reading the comments now posted on many Web sites, it is clear that many Americans, not a majority perhaps, but a sizable segment, believe somehow he is more to blame for the war than Osama bin Laden.

This is not the case, in my view. The Bush Administration has been struggling to adequately respond to the threat. They have made many mistakes, but they have been trying. The President has become a fighter, and we need one now.

It reminds me of something Charles de Gaulle once said about his own relationship with the French people in an earlier period:

"Every time I acted I saw around me a tide of incomprehension, complaints and sometimes furor. That is fate. So much so that one of my friends -- and I do have some friends -- speaking about this tide told me of a primitive painting that showed a crowd being led toward hell by devils while a poor angel was pointing in the opposite direction.

"The people in the crowd had their fists raised not against the devils but against the angel. And my friend said: "There should be another painting next to this one showing the crowd on the point of falling into the chasm, breaking away from the devils and running toward the angel." That's symbolic and figurative art, but perhaps nevertheless there is some truth in it."

Well the Democratic doves in the U.S. are not devils. They are well meaning. But they don't understand the situation, and the threat constantly grows.

(In a lengthy comment on this blog, someone castigates Vice President Cheney and asks, in effect, whether I consider him honorable.

I do. Vice President Cheney has strong views and is often not bashful about expressing them. But there is no reason not to consider him a sincere man, who has advocated positions for the U.S. that he believes in. Like President Bush, I give him high marks for trying to do the best they can for the American people.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

California Prison Population Must Be Reduced

Higher courts hearing appeals will have to sort out the issues raised by a Superior Court decision yesterday barring the Schwarzenegger Administration from sending prisoners to penal institutions out of state to relieve prison crowding in California.

The ruling by Judge Gail D. Ghanesian raises questions, in part, because it seems to side with the nefarious prison workers union whose chief concern is its members overtime pay, and not the well being of either the prisons or the state's criminal justice system.

But nonetheless elements of the Ghanesian decision do raise very serious questions about the constitutionality of moving hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, of prisoners out of the state, mostly against their will.

And the court decision brings to the fore issues about California's prisons that can no longer be ignored. Jenifer Warren, the L.A.Times writer who has been covering these issues, is doing a public service.

Specifically, the three-strikes law, with its effect that thousands of elderly prisoners are kept in jail long beyond any reasonable need to do so, at immense expense to the state's taxpayers, has landed the system in crisis. Steps need to be taken urgently to amend this law to allow for timely prisoner releases so as to avert both overcrowding and a steady rise in tensions within the prison system.

It has to be recognized even by a crime-obsessed public that a very large proportion of prison inmates are in these institutions for drug offenses for which routine penalties are too long, and do not serve their purpose.

The overcrowded nature of the prison system not only has elevated prison expenses beyond reason, but the need to keep up with just feeding and housing the prisoners has led to a situation where rehabilitation goals of the system have been put in the shadow, and the prisoners allowed in most cases just to vegetate. This in turn contributes to the recidivism rate.

This, plus the overcrowding, has also contributed to the riots that now habitually mark the prison system. Ethnic tensions have soared, and the situation is explosive.

All of this, neither the governor nor the legislature have so far been able to cope with successfully.

The governor's top aides, such as the ethically-tainted executive secretary Susan Kennedy have played politics with the whole prison issue, and the legislature has dithered about solutions.

I do not, however, believe that one of those solutions is to increase the capacity of the prisons by 78,000, as the governor has proposed, even while he has suggested a review of the state's sentencing laws.

As the Times presentation today mentions, even former Gov. George Deukmejian, certainly no softie on crime, has held that overcrowdedness is at the root of the state's prison problems. The implication of such a finding is that sentences are too long and that many people in prison should not be there.

If the Ghanesian decision moves the state's politicians toward that conclusion, it will have done a public service, even if it also did a temporary service to the interests of the prison guards.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Excuses Abound On Why Tribune Can't Sell LAT

We've now gotten to the point where everybody is writing about why the inept Tribune Co. managers can't arrange to sell the L.A. Times and the company's other mishandled properties back into hands that would know how to successfully run them.

Generally speaking, the Chandler family is being blamed, often because it wants to avoid paying taxes on a sale, or, it was stated in a L.A. Times article, the federal strictures against a newspaper company also owning television stations in the same market areas where the papers are doing business in effect negate the chances of a sale.

But since the television stations could be put on sale separately from the newspapers, that is not much of an excuse. If federal policy on cross-ownership is maintained, some of these TV stations, like Channel 5 in Los Angeles, would have to be sold separately anyway.

As for the Chandlers, yes, the existing branches of the family, want to realize value out of a sale and, just like everyone, would like to minimize taxes.

But can we blame the Chandlers for this? When the Chandlers had Times-Mirror sold to the Tribune Co. in 2000, they had as much reason as the rest of us for thinking they had entered into a sound deal. The leaders of Tribune Co. pledged to run good newspapers and to accord the L.A. Times an honored place within their business.

Who could have foreseen that Tribune would change leadership, elevating Dennis FitzSimons into a position he turned out to be utterly unqualified for, and that FitzSimons and his choice as Tribune president, Scott Smith, would immediately start downsizing all their papers and failing to invest money in circulation and Web site improvements, investments which are essential these days to keep papers in sound financial positions?

So, we reached the point last spring, where, alarmed both at the way things were going, and FitzSimons' remedies -- a stock buyback and continuing cutbacks of all kinds -- that promised nothing but disaster, the three Chandler members of the Tribune board rehired Tom Unterman, and solicited a breakup of the company, or sale of selected properties. Maybe, Jeffrey Chandler was viewed as unusually dumb, even among the surviving Chandlers, by people who knew him. Still, he and the other two Chandler representatives on the Tribune board were not being wrong in wanting out at that point.

As the New York Times said Saturday in a column Saturday by Joe Nocera, the time for a sale proved not to be propitious. The very ineptitude of the FitzSimons management made the Tribune newspapers less enticing a deal, and then the firing of publishers and editors at the L.A. Times came just at a moment when investors were looking. Getting rid of Dean Baquet at the L.A. Times alone was a powerful disincentive to making a satisfactory offer for the Times. Immediately, indeed, the Times lost some of its value.

So, it's proved difficult to arrange the kind of deal either the Chandlers or the mismanaging Chicago businessmen who run Tribune would like.

But that does not mean that Tribune ought not to go ahead and take the best offer it has.

Things are not going to get better under the present ownership, which simply does not know what to do. It is out of sound ideas. FitzSimons actually never had any.

It's clear from what the Chandlers have been telling associates privately that they would enter into arrangements, the best they could get. It's only the stubbornness of FitzSimons and his crew of incompetents that really prevents going ahead.

Sometimes, if you're totally witless, such as FitzSimons and his associates, you have to sell for less than you hoped to get.

Can we really blame them for this?


Monday, February 19, 2007

Bush Hesitates On Attacking Al-Queda Camps

It is scary this morning to read in the New York Times that the Bush Administration is hesitating to attack Al Qaeda training camps in Pakistan, across the border from Afghanistan, for fear of causing civilian casualties.

This was the same excuse the Clinton Administration used repeatedly in the years between the 1998 attack on U.S. embassies in East Africa and its departure from power eight months before the terror attacks against New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001. During that period, U.S. terror experts came up with several proposals to go after Osama bin Laden and his infrastructure, but, always, queasy officials from President Clinton on down refused to approve such attacks.

The results are well known. Three thousand Americans died on 9/11, and another 3,000 have already died in the wars that followed it.

Now, is the Bush Administration going to sit around and wait for a new devastating Al Qaeda attack in Europe or the United States, before it decides to act decisively to crush the terror organization?

It is worth recalling, as a friend did for me today, that on Sept. 24, 2001, President Bush declared that unless any country opposed terror, we would assume it was with it, and act accordingly.

But that resolution has given way since to let the Musharraf regime in Pakistan play both sides with impunity.

In the world as it is, Muslim duplicity is a real problem. Musharraf pretends to be a friend of the U.S., but he enters into an agreement with the terrorists in North Waziristan, next to Afghanistan, to give them a privileged sanctuary, from which they can attack the Hamid Karzai regime in Afghanistan, and its U.S. and NATO allies.

It is true, Pakistan has suffered from several recent suicide bombings. But at the same time, Pakistan may have been involved, through extremist organizations allowed to operate there, in today's fire bombing of an Indian train that killed 67 persons on a run between New Delhi and Pakistan. Indian authorities said new, more sophisticated fire bombs were used to murder passengers on the train. But so many Pakistani passengers died that there was also speculation the perpetrator could have been Indian extremists trying to embitter relations.

The New York Times says today that Washington has become aware that Al Qaeda has "re-established significant control over their once battered worldwide terror network and over the past year have set up a band of training campaigns in the tribal regions near the Afghan border" (lead paragraph of the lead story in the paper).

The question, then, is what is going to be done about these developments?

Just because queasy Democrats in Washington don't have the stomach to face the present situation realistically is not an excuse for the Administration to hold back. It is duty bound to protect the American people and must do so. Besides, public opinion could turn around if U.S. forces were to do something really decisive. I don't believe the security operation in Baghdad is it.

As the New York Times story observes, there is proof that British Muslim terrorists involved in attacks on the London subways and an abortive plot last summer to blow up airliners over the Atlantic have been found to have traveled to Pakistan for training.

The safety of Americans is involved in the present situation. If we know the location of Al Qaeda training camps, we must strike to destroy them.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

No Recognition For The Violent "Unity" Government

Israel and the United States are taking the only reasonable path they can in their unwillingness to extend recognition to the new Fatah-Hamas "unity" government in the Palestinian territories until it satisfies three conditions: recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and commitment to observe past peace treaties.

This is a throwback to the days of the late slimy PLO chief, Yasser Arafat, who always stopped short of recognizing Israel and who repeatedly resorted to violence in hopes that he could get his way. There was no such thing as honorable dealing with Arafat, as many American presidents and Israeli prime ministers found out. He was absolutely not to be trusted, and his successors in Gaza and the West Bank are men of the same stripe.

Indeed, it is a characteristic of Muslim extremists throughout the world that their word cannot be taken seriously, and that their easy adoption of violence puts them outside the bounds of civilization. Their conduct grows more and more despicable and justifies repression everywhere that is appropriate.

As Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas today, Muslim separatists in Thailand launched unprovoked attacks that caused six fatalities in the southern part of that country, Iran again refused to commit to suspend its nuclear program, and Sunni insurgents exploded new bombs in Baghdad that killed 63 and wounded 127, just two days after the incompetent and asinine Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, had declared that the new security operations in Baghdad were a "dazzling success."

Earlier in the week, extremist bombs in Algeria killed six and wounded many others, and threats were made to expand the terrorism there to France, Spain and Italy. Islamic killings continued in Somalia, Lebanon, Pakistan and Iran, Islamic terrorists received long prison sentences for earlier bombings in Turkey, and, even in Salt Lake City, a Bosnian Muslim immigrant violated the terms under which his family had been admitted to the United States by walking into a mall and shooting to death five innocent people, before he was shot and killed by police.

So, when Abbas tells Rice, as he did today, that if only the U.S. and Israel recognize the new unity government, Hamas will moderate sometime in the future, there is no reason to accept his assurances. The record speaks for itself: the Palestinians are not to be trusted to be reasonable, and until they prove they are reasonable, they must be given no further concessions. Every day, they fire more rockets into Israel, they prove their intransigence and lack of good sense.

Abbas went to Saudi Arabia to meet with Hamas to develop the unity pact, but, as so often is the case with so-called Muslim moderates, he promptly caved into the extremists on all key points. I hope when she met with him, Rice was carrying pepper spray for her own protection.

The Democrats in Congress may believe we can walk away from all this with impunity. Just yesterday, Sen. Hillary Clinton demonstrated she is not tough enough to be President by knuckling under to naive peaceniks in the Democratic party and advocating that U.S. soldiers begin withdrawing from Iraq in 90 days.

The bitter truth is that we cannot retreat now, in the Middle East or anywhere else, because Muslim violence, encouraged by the withdrawal would only increase the threat to the U.S., the West, and indeed civilization itself.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Too Much Brow Beating From Tim Rutten

I should start out this morning by saying that in the light of subsequent revelations I was too complimentary to NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert in defending him the other day against the assertions of L.A. Times columnist Scott Collins.

Russert was indeed guilty of what Times media columnist Tim Rutten this morning calls "sleazy double-dealing," when he took a public stand against grand jury testimony in the case of Vice President Cheney's aide, Scooter Libby, while at the same time talking secretly about it to the FBI.

And Rutten seems right too in castigating San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams for sticking by their pledges of confidentiality in a San Francisco steroid case even when they knew their source, low-life defense attorney Troy Ellerman, was lying to a federal judge, accusing the prosecution of leaking the material he had leaked himself to the two reporters and demanding a mistrial be declared in the steroid case based on his false accusations.

Still, despite being right on these two counts, I think Rutten goes too far in so broadly blaming the press for ethical transgressions in the collecting of information in Washington during the buildup to the war in Iraq.

Rutten seems to be saying to the beleaguered press corps that they should not talk to sources unless they are positive they are good sources. He even takes out against Judith Miller, formerly of the New York Times, once again for talking to a "bad" source, Scooter Libby, when, in fact, she never wrote an article about what he had told her.

It is not a solution to the problems of Washington reporting to suggest that reporters should avoid high-ranking sources in the sitting administration, even if they are somewhat suspect.

What does Rutten want, that Washington reporters stick to listening only to those without power, in the opposition, so they can question those in power? This is no more workable a policy.

Rutten is putting too much reliance on the press being so savvy as to being able to distinguish between good and bad information at times when government is operating behind a veil and press knowledge of what is going on behind the scenes is very clouded.

We've reached a point where there is so much unhappiness about the way the war in Iraq is going that anyone who ever had anything to do with it is coming in for his or her share of the blame. Often, the shots are scattered.

The fact is that wars are nearly always accompanied by lies and delusions. It is too much to put the onus on the press for not providing quasi-revolutionary resistance to government officials such as Rutten seems to be demanding here.

The very nature of the reporting profession is that you have to talk to those in or close to authority who have the information and then try to sort out, as best you can, whether the information you are getting is true. Sometimes, you are going to make mistakes. In the very nature of things, not all reporting can be accurate.

I found myself, in covering politics for the Times, that high-ranking sources are sometimes not the best, and that the famed New York Times correspondent, Harrison Salisbury, was not always correct when he said the best leaks fizzed from the top.

Often, in fact, the best information came from lower-ranking people with access to the top.

This was certainly true when I covered Eugene McCarthy's campaign in 1968. It was McCarthy's mistress and his valet who both told me that McCarthy would hold back an endorsement of Hubert Humphrey for President after he lost the Democratic nomination to him at the riotous Democratic convention in Chicago. I went with it, quoting anonymous sources, and it turned out to be right.

Similarly, in the Russian boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, it was not Peter Ueberroth or Juan Antonio Samaranch who told me the Soviets were going to boycott the Games. It was the Romanian member of the International Olympic Committee and an East German newsman. Knowing them well, I took their word for it and wrote accordingly, and I was glad later I'd been right in doing so. Still, I went off on a backpacking trip for a weekend with my son, and was lucky to get back in time for the actual Soviet announcement.

It is not a question of not using confidential sources. It is a question of trying to assess when sources are reliable, and then proceeding on your judgments.

Still, when you find out your sources have been lying, I agree with Rutten that it's important to say so.


Teresa Watanabe's non-dupe story in the L.A. Times Friday about the service and death in Iraq of UCLA political science graduate Mark Daily was a wonderful piece, for which she deserves the highest marks. I wish everyone who serves in Iraq could be as confident about the utility of their mission as Daily was. The fact, however, in this difficult war is that many who serve are not as sure they are always doing the right thing. That they go ahead and do the best they can anyway is admirable.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Dean Baquet Keeps Firing At Tribune Co.

Regardless of what he accomplishes from here on, and I have no doubt Dean Baquet has a distinguished career awaiting with the New York Times, nothing he ever does is likely to be as much service to journalism as his rebellion against the Tribune Co. at the L.A. Times.

Baquet has not forgotten that episode, and neither can any of the rest of us. His name has become synonymous with defense of quality journalism at a difficult time for newspapers.

So interviews with Baquet are worth reading, and the interview he granted last Friday to Karen Brown Dunlap, president of the Poynter Institute, might, in particular, be inscribed in gold.

Much of what he said bears repeating time and again as we consider the future of our trade.

"I'm not opposed to cutting," Baquet said. "Sometimes that's necessary, but resist some cuts. Don't blindly say yes or no. Think hard about cuts. Go back to your publisher and make the case for fewer cuts...

"The case that I tried to make, that Jim O'Shea continues, is that we don't need to cut if we're trying to produce two newspapers, one online.

"...Get out of all the corporate meetings and get into the newsroom. Many editors have gotten caught up in the office spending time on budgets. Newsrooms want to be led...

"My advice to editors is go edit. If there was ever a time people want to be led on news, it is now. Take a day or two out of the week and put a moratorium on the word 'revenue.'

"...While getting excited about the election campaign, we still have to fully cover the war."

Baquet acknowledged that he gets "a little sad when I think about the future of the L.A. Times.. I just worry that Tribune will keep cutting back, and they will. I wish Tribune would focus more on building."

Also, Baquet made the point in the interview that newspaper readership is actually increasing, if you take into account all those people now reading the content of papers online. The thing, he said, reporters have to do is to keep breaking great stories.

Baquet is now a national leader of journalists. The man who fired him, David Hiller, will drop into the ash bin of newspaper history. In fact, he already has.

There was a hint in the interview that O'Shea, who replaced Baquet as editor, may be following other Chicagoans who came out here and "went native," that he too has begun to resist Tribune cutting. Let's hope this is the case. I did like O'Shea's appointment of the able Davan Maharaj as the new L.A. Times business editor. But almost every week, there are signs of more fluff and less news in the Times.

To give just a few examples, the Times sports section, for the first time in many years to my knowledge, didn't send anyone to cover the Australian Open, and its coverage of the Los Angeles bid for the 2016 Olympics has been paltry. Then, in the shootings that killed five people at a Salt Lake City mall, the Times dropped the story after just two days, without ever having reported that the shooter was a Muslim Bosnian refugee who was a survivor of the Srebenica massacre. It failed to report this morning that the Bosnian Ambassador to Washington had come out to Salt Lake City to apologize for the shootings and commisurate with the victims. Meanwhile, such new sections as Envelope are mainly worthless. Under O'Shea, regardless what Baquet said, the Times has been diminished. That's the one thing Baquet said that I disagreed with, although he really did not elaborate. It was just a hint.

The departure of such outstanding writers and editors at the Times as John Balzar, Alissa Rubin and Vernon Loeb, can only be viewed as alarming. If cuts continue, such departures can only continue.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Odds on Presidential Candidates Discussed In NYT

The New York Times continues to display depth in its political coverage that is matched in no other newspaper. It makes the New York newspaper must reading at an immensely important period in our national life.

Wednesday, in a column in the Business section by David Leonhardt, the precision as to projecting voting results incorporated on the Web site was discussed, and it is fascinating indeed. By using the wisdom of the market, so to speak, in political analysis, this Dublin,, Ireland-based service was able, in November, hours in advance of the American TV networks, to project Democratic control of the U.S. Senate. It had much more information than the networks on how the voting was actually going.

Odds are, as Leonhardt writes, that Intrade is projecting the likely 2008 election winner with greater chance of success than anyone else, although, of course, events unforeseen at this time may materially affect the odds between now and the election.

Still, the current odds are fascinating. Intrade currently gives Sen. Hillary Clinton a 49% chance of winning the Democratic nomination, and a 26% chance of winning the election. Of other announced or possible Democratic candidates, Sen. Barack Obama is given a 20% chance of the nomination and a 13% chance of winning the election, former Sen. John Edwards is given a 13% chance of the nomination and a 9% chance of being elected, and former Sen. Al Gore is given a 9% chance of the nomination and a 7% chance of being elected.

On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain is given a 37% chance of winning the GOP nomination and a 16% chance of being elected President. Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is given a 24% chance of the GOP nomination and a 14% chance of being elected, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is given a 19% chance of being nominated and a 9% chance of being elected.

As of the major candidates listed, Intrade puts the combined odds on a Democrat winning the election at 55% and a Republican at 39% at this time.

Also, today, the New York Times reports on an attempted smear on the Internet against Sen. Obama -- an attempt resisted successfully, thank goodness, by a federal attorney, to register a trademark depicting Obama as "Obama bin Laden" and his wife as a veil-wearing companion.

This demonstrates why the Internet is so dangerous. It allows scoundrels throughout the world to convey nonsense, sell pornography, entice the young and innocent into terrible relationships, and spread scams and prejudice all over the world. Even though I blog frequently on the Internet, I can't say I like it.

The story also shows how courageous Obama is by even running for President, bidding to become the first black major party nominee. Anyone who doesn't think that Obama is exposing not only his reputation but his personal safety in this effort doesn't give enough credence to hatemongers such as the man trying to peddle this scurrilous junk.

Not far behind the NYT in its political coverage is the Washington Post. A Los Angeleno, Matthew Mosk, grandson of the late California Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk, has been assigned by the Post to cover the monetary aspects, the contributions, to the Presidential race, and Mosk's initial reports have been extremely informative.

Mosk worked for awhile, when he was first out of Dartmouth College, where he had been editor of the student newspaper, for the Los Angeles Times in Ventura County, but Times editors didn't have the good sense to keep him on the staff beyond a two-year trial. Since then, Mosk has risen steadily as the Maryland statehouse correspondent of the Baltimore Sun and the Post, prior to being awarded his present assignment.

Although Michael Finnegan, Mark Barabak and others are doing a credible job of political coverage for the Los Angeles Times, it is already clear that LAT political coverage, under Tribune ownership, will not be as extensive as either that of the NYT or the Post.


I believe great newspapers must remain primarily print newspapers, despite the increasing importance of newspaper Web sites. So I have to believe that talk show host Hugh Hewitt's blog calling for the L.A. Times to put more emphasis on its Web site than its newspaper is not good advice. I wonder whether Hewitt's ideas would not serve the present Tribune executives, who have been working assiduously to wreck the future of the L.A. Times.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

On Balance, Progress In North Korean Issue

On balance, I believe the tentative deal with North Korea looking forward to a stand down in its nuclear weapons program represents a positive development for the Bush Administration and U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policy in general.

Three noteworthy things happened after the North Koreans detonated a small nuclear device on Oct. 9.

First, the test itself was something of a fizzle, with the explosion being smaller than perhaps the North Koreans had planned and hoped for. This may have shown them that they weren't as far along in developing a workable atomic weapon as they had thought.

Second, the Chinese government's reaction was quite negative. China joined in the moderate sanctions that were adopted at the U.N., it joined the banking sanctions in Macao that the U.S. had encouraged, and it apparently cut some military aid to North Korea and threatened further cuts. All this showed that the Chinese, like the Bush Administration and the Japanese, were concerned about the prospect that North Korea could become a full fledged nuclear power.

Third, the U.S. abandoned its policy of not talking to the North Korean regime of Kim Jong Il directly. The Administration sent its able lead negotiator, Christopher Hill, to Berlin to talk bilaterally with the lead North Korean negotiator, and out of this precedent-setting meeting came the bare bones agreement that has now been reached in the six-party talks in Beijing.

Anything can happen. Past agreements with the North Koreans have not proved lasting. But in this case, the North Koreans stand to receive quite a bit more in aid, in oil and so on, if they honor their assurance that their main nuclear plant will be shut down within 60 days and let in U.N. inspectors to verify that it has been. Further steps, such as disassembly of present nuclear weapons and/or turning them over to international bodies, have not been ruled out.

It could well be that once Kim Jong Il begins moving in a more peaceful direction, the pressures on his regime will build to undertake even more reforms. North Korea, to put it mildly, has not been an economic success. Like East Germany in 1989, once the ice is broken, pressures may well build up on the regime for even more substantive change. In this respect, South Korea, Japan and China can all be helpful to the U.S.

Once it became obvious that the Bush Administration was in no mind to undertake military action to block North Korea becoming a nuclear power, then some such deal was probably in the cards, and we now have to wait to see what happens next.

It also should be recognized that what happens with North Korea may have some impact on the relations of the U.S. and other Western countries with Iran in respect to its nuclear plans.

Just this morning, at his news conference, President Bush joined the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Pace, in distancing himself somewhat from anonymous U.S. military briefers in Baghdad over the weekend who had suggested that senior members of the Iranian government were responsible for the alleged use of Iranian weapons, such as roadside bombs and other anti-tank devices, against American forces in Iraq.

It could well be that, just as Hill's contact with the North Koreans proved useful in Berlin, some mid level bilateral diplomatic exchanges may soon get underway between the U.S and Iran, looking forward at least to stemming tensions that have been building up between the U.S. and Iran in the Iraq war and elsewhere in the Middle East.

One place to watch is Lebanon. If Iran backs off there, and Hezbollah suspends or lessens its efforts to depose the Siniora government, it could be viewed as an introductory positive step. But yesterday's bombing of a bus carrying civilians in Lebanon, the first such attack, was ominous. Also, of course, the doings of the Iraqi radical, Moktada al-Sadr, who reportedly has gone to Iran, bear watching.


The departure of Vernon Loeb, an investigative editor at the L.A. Times, to return to the Philadelphia Inquirer as metro editor is another sign that under Tribune ownership, and all the uncertainties about the Times future that that entails, the paper is losing key personnel and sinking. Tribune did enter into one sale this week, that of Hoy, its Spanish-language paper, in New York. But it has not proceeded expeditiously as yet to make other sales, and its stock price continues a slow decline. Unless the Times is sold soon, the departures of John Balzar, Alissa Rubin and now, Vernon Loeb, will only be followed by others.

Loeb was a leader in the Times city room in trying to fashion reforms at the paper. He was a strong and outspoken supporter of the ousted editor, Dean Baquet. Under the circumstances, we can only wish him well at the Inquirer.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Criticism Of Tim Russert In LAT Unjustified

In a nasty column that used the ditsy writer and former unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Ariana Huffington, and an aide of Vice President Cheney, to try to discredit NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert on Monday, Scott Collins of the L.A. Times showed a woeful incomprehension of how successful Washington reporters necessarily have to comport themselves.

Russert is one of the Capital's most savvy and straight-talking reporters, and NBC is an outstanding news operation. Russert will easily overcome this unworthy attack. Being criticized by Huffington , and I suspect by Collins, is an honor.

It is true Russert seemed uncomfortable responding to a cross-examination from the defense lawyer in the Libby trial. But most reporters would feel uncomfortable in a court of law, where the legal system allows all sorts of tricks and often falls short of seeking the truth.

This, however, is no justification for Collins or Huffington suggesting that Russert is a patsy for those he interviews on the weekly Sunday Meet the Press program, the most popular of the weekend interview shows. If Russert were to show the "outrage" that Collins thinks Washington reporters should, he wouldn't have an interview program very long and viewers would lose a program that often does the public a worthwhile service.

And it certainly is not justified for Collins and Huffington to criticize Russert for saying he assumes most of his conversations outside the show with Washington politicians are off-the-record.

It is naive to think that political reporting can proceed expeditiously without many off-the-record conversations. All Russert is doing is recognizing the lay-of-the-land in Washington, in which confidential sourcing is nearly always the order of the day. It is certainly the case that Huffington, in her writing, often relies on off-the-record conversations.

I don't know Collins. Maybe, he has never been to Washington, D.C.

He is annoyed because the Cheney press aide testified that she pushed to get Cheney on Meet the Press, because it was "our best format."

This, however, did not mean that Cheney would be subject to softball questioning on the show. All it meant was that, as the most popular program, if you want to speak to the American people, it makes sense to appear on it.

Russert is a plain speaker, if usually civil, and he has been anything but easy on the Bush Administration. In recent months, he has repeatedly suggested that the Administration is in dire political difficulty, as it undoubtedly is, on the war and other issues.

If Russert was occasionally too accepting, before the Iraq war began, of the Administration's rationale for going to war, he was not exceptional among Washington journalists. Journalists, like government officials, can make misjudgments, and the Adminstration initially had powerful support inside and outside government for invading Iraq.

But to subject Russert to the lambasting Collins gave him is unjustified. As I say, this was a nasty and unprovoked attack, which can be dismissed as sniping from the hinterland by a writer who doesn't understand or sympathize with Washington reporters.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Obama Gets Jump On Hillary On War Issue

Both the New York Times and Washington Post have lengthy articles this morning on Sen. Barack Obama's presidential announcement and first campaign moves in Illinois and Iowa, and Sen. Hillary Clinton's rather troubled weekend foray in New Hampshire.

The L.A. Times, showing once again the results of Tribune ownership and cutbacks, did not staff Clinton's trip, and its Obama article, by Mark Barabak, first seemed too pessimistic a view of Obama's opening moves over the weekend. These are early signs that L.A. Times political coverage for the 2008 campaign will not be up to that of the New York Times and Washington Post.

The fact is that Obama got the jump on Clinton over the weekend, especially on the war issue. He drew tremendous crowds in very cold weather, and he kept punching away on Clinton's vote for the Iraq war back in 2003, when Obama was not in the Senate, but still was clearly opposed to the war. Obama made the point that domestic initiatives in the U.S. are on hold pending a resolution of the war. He wants a scheduled withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, although he had put some restrictions on this, depending on war developments.

(However, within a few hours, Obama had to apologize for remarking that lives of American soldiers killed in Iraq had been "wasted." This was a serious mistake, and shows that Obama has to watch himself in the heated atmosphere of a presidential campaign).

Clinton, meanwhile, seemed hard pressed in New Hampshire to parry war questions from voters who wanted to know why she had originally approved of the war, and what her position on it is now. She said President Bush abused the powers the Senate gave him in its war resolution, but she refused to say her own vote had been a "mistake."

NBC commentator Tim Russert suggested on the Today program Sunday morning that any admission from her of having made a mistake could open new questions about her capacity as a woman to lead the country. Women candidates always have to fear seeming irresolute. Meanwhile, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert was much higher on Obama than on Clinton.

What seems to be happening is that Obama has seized the high ground (given the fact both he and Clinton are running in Democratic primaries at present) on the war issue, and, incidentally, has outflanked former Sen. John Edwards, who now is for a somewhat more precipitate Iraq withdrawal than Obama but, like Clinton, voted for the war in the first place. Edwards' sincerity as a trial lawyer by profession, is somewhat in question.

Obama is creating an impression, in short, that he is purer and more definite as well as more idealistic, on the war issue than the other major candidates, and he picked up two substantial endorsements in Iowa over the weekend.

He seems, at least for the moment, to have put in the shadow any questions about his father being a Muslim, or whether he can appeal solidly to black voters, although these will recur as his campaign goes on.

We're still nearly a year from the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, and there will undoubtedly be many developments in Iraq and the whole Middle East before then. Perspectives on the war could change, although perhaps not in an optimistic way.

Meanwhile, based on his California pronouncements over the weekend, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani seems ready to announce formally a presidential candidacy at a time of his choosing.

Giuliani will be a formidable candidate. At this point, he has an edge over Sen. John McCain in the battle for the GOP nomination.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Bush's "Surge" Is Moving Very Slowly.

John Mitchell, President Nixon's attorney general, used to say, "Watch what we do, not what we say."

The same is pertinent to the Bush Administration's "surge" of 21,500 more troops to Iraq, with the announced aim of quelling sectarian warfare in Baghdad. A month after the operation was announced, it is mighty slow getting started, and it's time to start wondering just what is going on.

Louise Roug, an L.A. Times reporter in Iraq, wrote a lead story yesterday in which she declared, "A month after the Bush Administration announced a "surge" in troops for Baghdad, Iraqis are still waiting for anything to change." Roug said the Maliki regime in Iraq is expressing impatience, and she quoted administration officials as explaining U.S. troops are still being trained at home. Only a paltry 3,000 American troops and 2,000 Iraqi troops have arrived in Baghdad, where, last week, Sunni insurgents continued bombing Shiite neighborhoods and the Shiites mortared Sunni neighborhoods in return. Hundreds of civilians died.

There may be some waiting by the administration to see whether Maliki will live up to his commitments of Iraqi troops. Those which have arrived are only at about half-strength and show little desire to fight.

Could it be that the Bush policy may yet change, and that American troops will stand down to some extent, or be withdrawn from the Baghdad area into the hinterland, where they would, for the time being, be safer?.

Perhaps it is not a coincidence that, despite several helicopters being downed, the rate of U.S. casualties in the last week or so has declined. Yet if even the first new U.S. units had been committed to pacifying Baghdad neighborhoods and keeping Sunnis and Shiites from one an other's throats, the casualties would have increased.

A column in the New York Times Week in Review section today raises some worthwhile questions. The war critic Frank Rich notes that the "surge" is already getting off to a bad start. "Not enough capable Iraqi troops are showing up and, as Gen. Peter Pace told the Senate last week, not enough armored vehicles are available to protect the new American deployments." Rich also quotes the conservative columnist William Kristol as assailing the new defense secretary, Robert Gates, for "letting the Joint Chiefs slow-walk the brigades in." It has become obvious that key military higher-ups doubt the utility of the "surge." They may, as Kristol suggests, have caught a case of the slows.

In the L.A. Times' "Current" section, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security advisor to President Carter, meanwhile questions Mr. Bush's bellicose recent statements towards Iran. Calling these "ominous," Brzezinski writes, "If the United States continues to be bogged down in protracted, bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and much of the Islamic world.

"Here, for instance, is a plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran: Iraq fails to meet the benchmarks for progress toward stability set by the Bush Administration. This is followed by U.S. accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure, then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the United States blamed on Iran, culminating in a "defensive" U.S. military action against Iran. This plunges a lonely United States into a spreading and deepening quagmire lasting 20 years or more and eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan."

Ridiculous? Perhaps not. We have to watch what happens carefully.


Saturday, February 10, 2007

Build The West Side Subway ASAP

Had Zev Yaroslavsky and Henry Waxman not gotten in the way, the subway out Wilshire Blvd. to the ocean would have been built by now, and the cost would have been quite a bit less than the $4.8 billion it is now projected to cost.

But it's too late to cry over spilt milk. The future of Los Angeles traffic, the economy, the overall well-being of Los Angelenos, require that it be built now as soon as possible.

Waxman, changing his mind, has gotten the House of Representatives to repeal the ban on federal funding, and the Senate and President Bush are expected to act soon, opening the way for a large share of the financing.

But Los Angeles should not wait for that. The funds exist now to plan the subway, so that when the repeals come forth, the city will be ready.

It shouldn't take 20 years to build this project, but it will, unless it is made the priority, a special manager is named for the project, and some kind of guarantee is made that when building begins, we won't have to rely on the inept Tutor-Saliba firm to do the building.

These days, when I ride the Red Line subway between downtown and the Valley, as I did just yesterday, it is always full of people. It's a project that has meant a lot to L.A. The West Side route will mean even more.

And it's important at the same time to expedite light rail -- the line to the southeast side, the Expo line to Culver City, and extension of the Green Line to LAX. Once that network is in place, a lot of people will be able to abandon their cars and use public transport.

This is truly a valuable project. The papers are behind it. There will never be a better time to get going.

In another matter, the L.A. Times "Current" section on Sunday gives space to one of the USC professors suspiciously against building rail systems. In this case, James Moore wries against proposals for a bullet train in California, linking Sacramento, the Bay Area and L.A. As I've written in the case of Moore's colleague Peter Gordon, these professors ought to be asked whether they have affiliations to the automobile and/or highway lobbies. They don't sound legit.


Friday, February 09, 2007

Former Editor Explains LAT Internet Failures

Glenda McCarthy, a former listings editor at the L.A. Times Web site, goes a long way to explaining why the newspaper's Web site has been a failure, up to now at least, in an e-mail to Kevin Roderick, editor of L.A. Observed.

The e-mail outlines how, under the scatterbrained Tribune Co. of Chicago, the Times hired for the Web "primarily temporarily low-paid employees who had no background in journalism" and who, besides, had only contempt for the regular journalists on the paper.

It's a story that has been documented before. Times editors would ask Tribune to invest in the Web site with more qualified personnel, but, in keeping with a policy of not making sound investments in its newspapers, Tribune always refused.

This is the whole story of the Tribune's ownership of the Times and other Times-Mirror newspapers -- a refusal to spend enough to keep the papers competitive.

I've suggested before that Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons be given a lobotomy. But perhaps FitzSimons has already had a lobotomy, and it didn't work. There is certainly something wrong with how this fellow thinks. But that may be also because he eats unhealthy Chicago food.

Yesterday, the L.A. Times Web site showed signs of doing something right, running an interesting chat with Times editorial pages editor Andres Martinez.

But to really improve, it needs more staff, and better-qualified staff. It hired one qualified editor recently. It needs many more. But the chances are, it won't get more. In the New York Times today, Tribune executive Scott Smith, a member of the "axis of stupidity," predicts further circulation declines at Tribune newspapers. Smith and FitzSimons aren't doing anything to improve circulation.


Editor James O'Shea's selection of the able Devan Maharaj as editor of the Times Business section is good news. Maharaj has more skills than either Rick Wartzman or Russ Stanton, the two previous Business editors. He will know what to do to make this a better section.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Martinez Interview Shows LAT Internet Improving

Improvements in the long-deficient Los Angeles Times Web site are illustrated today with the 63-minute live chat featuring Andres Martinez, editor of the L.A. Times editorial pages.

Martinez does a good job of parrying questions about alleged Times ideological slants on immigration and Iraq war issues, and the Times commendably has not edited out suggestios that the newspaper has been deteriorating, although Martinez makes the point there's still a lot of good things in it.

This is a good format for Martinez, who says he has been in Los Angeles for two years now and likes it. He also answered questions about the Times carrying too many Easterners in its commentary pages, the Current section, and so forth. Altogether, it seemed to me this was a productive exchange, and apparently we can look forward to other chats with seniors at the newspaper.

The Martinez chat is moderated by Tim Cavanaugh, who does a good job. It was heartening to see last week that the Web site hired someone from the International Herald Tribune in Paris to improve its presentation.

As I say, this is a step forward, as is the greater focus on traffic issues in the newspaper as a whole in a better display of this vital consumer issue. Just this morning, the lead article on Page One is about American airline service on what is called in the headline "a bumpy ride." This is a subject that has been written about a great deal by air travel columnist Joe Sharkey in the New York Times.

The Times also reports this morning that in Washington, the House of Representatives has at last passed a bill repealing a ban on federal money for extension of the subway toward Santa Monica on the West Side. That bill now goes to the Senate and is expected to be signed into law soon by President Bush. Although the article makes the point that the 13-mile extension will cost $4.8 billion and take a long time to accomplish, at least steps forward are being taken.

The Times also apparently is moving to clear up an ethical transgression after the revelation that columnist Steve Lopez has not been the actual author on a number of his traffic blogs. It is, of course, important to say clearly just who is the author of all blogs on the Web site.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Does Eli Broad Want The Times, Or Tax Writeoffs?

Is the Eli Broad-Ron Burkle offer for the Tribune Co. real, or is it simply a means of gaining municipal tax write offs for big downtown Los Angeles projects?

Municipal politicians, noticing that Broad has been talking about buying the L.A. Times, might simply have decided, as a matter of career prudence, to let Broad get away with $66 million in tax write offs for his proposed Grand Ave. project.

That occurred to me when I read Steve Lopez's excellent column today in the Times on the many questions raised by giving away $66 million in public money for a project which, if it is worthwhile, could probably go forward on its own.

Lopez remembered when Joel Wachs was on the City Council and objected to such giveaways, quite successfully. He mentioned that when Wachs objected, wealthy businessmen would decide that, by golly, they could go ahead without so much in city funds.

Besides, his interviews showed, people out in the San Fernando Valley would rather have longer library hours than more downtown skyscrapers.

I found as a consumer columnist for the Times that Broad's old building company, Kaufman and Broad, often resorted to cost-cutting in building homes and that many buyers reported they had found defects. The firm was frequently not too quick in fixing them.

Broad, in short, is not quite the public servant that he pretends to be, and it would be distressing if he were using the prospect of Times ownership as an incentive for the City Council to give him special favors.

Our City Council, like the Board of Supervisors, is often not too zealous in protecting the public interest. Be it doing away with Los Angeles' magnificent palm trees, or giving developers special privileges they do not deserve, they are too often inclined to sell out the people without adequate reason.

In any event, at this point, it doesn't look like Burkle and Broad will obtain control of the Times or the whole Tribune Co., because (1) their offer is not very generous and (2) Chicago interests are resisting selling out despite their proven incompetence in running Tribune.

Sometimes, it is worth giving some tax concessions to developers, especially when they provide something that cannot be acquired any other. But in this case, it looks like we are being had.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

As Muslims Unravel, New Opportunities For U.S.

It hasn't been much noticed in the U.S., but the fact is that al-Qaeda is losing ground, and as the Muslim religion degenerates into the worst kind of internecine violence, there are opportunities opening in the U.S. campaign for change in the Middle East.

The fact is, as Lawrence Wright wrote in his book about the origins of al-Qaeda, "The Looming Tower," the terrorist organization is so venomous, it finds so many excuses for killing other Muslims, that it has been losing even many militants who would otherwise be inclined to fight the West. They have noticed that most of those murdered so brutally in the war are Muslims and that, in Iraq's case, al-Qaeda has been literally trying to destroy the country by turning one Iraqi against another.

It is ironic in a way, because when the villainous Musab Abu al-Zarqawi first launched his campaign to cause Sunni-Shiite warfare, even the al-Qaeda leadership chastised him.

But, soon, the Zarqawi tactic was adopted by al-Qaeda as a whole, and the result has been not only a rising feeling in Iraq that al-Qaeda tactics are not authentically Islamic, but a de facto coalition against extremism, both Sunni and Shiite, has gradually been taking hold in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon and other Arab countries.

The Saudis have gone so far as to undertake diplomatic exchanges with the Israelis, because they realize they have more in common with the Israelis than they do with al-Qaeda. Both the Saudis and the Gulf States are working with the West to sustain the beleaguered government in Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, is no longer as much of a hero as he was, even in Lebanon, and, in short, new perspectives are opening up.

Even in the city of Baghdad, there are now greater elements who welcome the U.S. attempt to bring some peace to the city. They begin to see the alternatives to accepting an American-led security operation are worse.

So while many Democrats in Washington can think only of ways to quit the war and concede American defeat, Middle Eastern opinion is beginning to change.

One of these days, President Bush's stubbornness may yet be appreciated.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Why The Chicago Bears Lost (A Fantasy)

The Chicago Bears were leading the Indianapolis Colts 14-6 in the Super Bowl, when suddenly Tribune Co. executives Dennis FitzSimons and David Hiller showed up on the field and began to throw their weight around. Coach Lovie Smith was helpless to stop them, and finally Hiller threatened to fire Smith, citing the precedent of his ouster of Dean Baquet at the L.A. Times.

Here's a transcript of some of the conversation:

FitzSimons: "Your salaries are too high, and we certainly don't have to have so large a bench. In fact, I think we can do with 10 men in the game at a time.

Hiller: That's right.

Lovie Smith: You guys are trying to do to me what you did to the Chicago Cubs. You're going to make us lose this game.

FitzSimons: Nonsense. If you don't follow my instructions, I'm only going to put nine men on the field.

Hiller: My boss is always right.

(The Bears fall behind 16-14).

Hiller: Rex Grossman needs to throw the ball the way I want him to.

Lovie Smith: Please, gentlemen. Some of my players are already sick. I think it was those enchiladas filled with potatoes you brought from Chicago and served at halftime.

FitzSimons: Chicago food is great. You shouldn't have been feeding them Miami food. Everything should come from Chicago. After all, our city father was Al Capone.

Lovie Smith: Don't treat the Bears the way you've treated the Los Angeles Times.

Hiller: I warn you: I fired Baquet and I can get rid of you too, unless Grossman throws the way I tell him to.

Grossman: I need to follow my coach's instructions.

FitzSimons: Nonsense, David and I came down here to do for the Bears what we've done for Tribune Co. and you must follow our instructions.

Grossman: But you guys wrecked the Tribune Co.

Hiller: Don't be insubordinate. Now, taunt the Colts by throwing your passes closer to them.

Grossman: Coach, do I have to?

Smith: I suppose you do. If you don't, Hiller will sic his friend Ken Starr on you, and you'll be prosecuted in the off-season.

(Grossman throws an intercepted pass, which is returned 56 yards for a touchdown, icing the game for the Colts)

Hiller: Hmmm! Kelvin Hayden is a cousin of mine. I play squash with him, just like I did with Donald Rumsfeld.

FitzSimons: We're going to have to downsize further. The Bears can do with half the linemen they have.

Smith: Fuck you, you dirty scoundrel.

(Game ends: Colts win, 29-17).

FitzSimons: Well, David, I guess it's back to Chicago and Los Angeles for us.

Hiller: But not before we have some of that Chicago food we brought with us. Rex, would you like some?

Grossman: No. I don't want to die of food poisoning. I've already lost the game, following your instructions.

Smith: Get the hell out of here, you screwballs. Next year, I'm going to follow Baquet to Washington and coach the Redskins.

FitzSimons: Fuck you, you dirty scoundrel. I'll send James O'Shea in to coach the Bears as soon as you leave.

Hiller: The Bears might not win. But under O'Shea, at least they'll have a better Web site.

FitzSimons: Not with our money, though.


Sunday, February 04, 2007

O.J. Simpson Is An Argument For Double Jeopardy

If there's ever been an argument for double jeopardy, it's the case of O.J. Simpson, who almost certainly has gotten away with murder, at least in terms of serving the long prison term he deserves.

This becomes even clearer in the partial transcript of Simpson's interview for his abortive book project, published in a compelling Saturday article by Russ Buettner and Edward Wyatt in the New York Times. The excerpts were leaked to the newspaper.

They show journalism at its best, because, after all the notoriety the Simpson case has received, it is certainly in the public interest that the truth about the sordid Los Angeles murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman emerge clearly.

Anyone reading the partial transcript can have little doubt that Simpson committed the crimes.

The fourth paragraph article suffices to form that definite conclusion. It reads:

"At one point during the interview, Mr. Simpson says: 'As things got heated, I just remember Nicole fell and hurt herself. And this guy kind of got into a karate thing.' It was then, he says, that "I remember I grabbed the knife." Later, asked about whether he had taken off a glove before handling the knife, Mr. Simpson says, "You know, I had no conscious member of doing that, but obviously I must have because they found a glove there."

It turns out, later in the transcript, that Simpson had an accomplice in the crimes, a man named Charlie who gave him the knife and disposed of bloody clothes thereafter.

Thank goodness, that in a rare instance of displaying (belated) good taste, Rupert Murdoch decided not to publish either the book, in which Simpson supposedly imagined the crime, or the interview. A Tim Rutten column in the L.A. Times was among the angry critiques which finally moved Murdoch to that wise decision.


The New York Times does not come off as well in the tasteless publication of a picture of a soldier killed in Iraq. A letter also appearing in the Saturday paper from Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the number two U.S. commander of forces in Iraq, protested the photograph of the dying soldier, which he asserted dishonored a promise made by the reporter, Damien Cave, and the photographer, Robert Nickelsberg.

Odierno writes, notably, "This story can and should be told. That is not in question. What is disturbing to me personally and more important, to the family of the soldier depicted in the photograph and the video, is that the young man who so valiently gave his life in the serving of others was displayed for the entire world to see in the gravest condition and in such a fashion as to elicit horror at its sight.

"This photograph will be the last of this man that his family will ever see. Further, it will cause unnecessary worry among the families of other soldiers who fear that the last they see of their loved ones will be in a New York Times photograph lying grievously wounded and dying."

There is no editor's note under this letter, but the New York Times owes the family, and the Army, an apology. It is not the first instance of the newspaper not being sensitive enough about Iraq casualties.


Saturday, February 03, 2007

Delgadillo Caters To The Billboard Lobby

Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo continues to prove himself an unsatisfactory elected official. This time, it does not involve protecting errant police officers from legitimate public disciplinary inquiry as he has done repeatedly. Now, the campaign contributions he has taken from the billboard lobby have led to Delgadillo attempts to scuttle the city's billboard controls.

In Friday's L.A. Times story by Steve Hymon, it is reported that Delgadillo -- who took $424,000 in contributions of billboard companies in his 2001 -- is refusing to divulge to public inquiries even where billboards are located in the city.

The information is important in facilitating efforts to discover which billboards may be out of compliance with municipal billboard regulations. It has previously been reported that many billboards have been installed without city permits, or expanded without permits.

Delgadillo seems to enforce the laws he likes and ignore or impede those which fly in the face of his political interests. Restricting the number of billboards, and regulating their size, is an important esthetic value in a crowded city like Los Angeles.

Adequate billboard regulation commands substantial support in the City Council, where such members as Wendy Greuel and Jack Weiss last week were sharply critical of the city attorney's refusal to facilitate enforcement of the rules.

Delgadillo's transgressions are often quite transparent. When he ran unsuccessfully against Jerry Brown for the Democratic nomination for state attorney general, his attacks against Brown were an obvious attempt to curry favor with the police unions. It didn't work. Now, he is just as obviously currying favor with the billboard interests.

One of his frequent techniques is to come up with false interpretations of laws, and then say he is awaiting a court decision to to see whether his interpretation can somehow gain legal sanction. Like many attorneys, Delgadillo is a perennial optimist when it comes to wildly interpreting the law in his own parochial interests. The courts must continually try to cope with such slippery miscreants.

Now, in court filings, Delgadillo is saying that the public should not be able to perform a computerized search by the name of the billboard company in order to get a full list of all the billboards owned by that firm.

As Hyman notes in his article, "That prompted Councilman Jack Weiss to wonder aloud: 'How can we say with a straight face to the public that the billboards in this city should be treated as a secret?'"

Delgadillo is also taking the position that he will notify the billboard companies when a member of the public asks for substantial information about them.

In short, he is serving not the public that elected him, but the billboard companies that made campaign contributions to him.

Thank goodness, Delgadillo, who has also been caught lying about his football playing career in college and after, will eventually be term limited out. It is too bad he cannot be forced into retirement now like some of our county supervisors who long ago outlived their usefulness as elected officials.


Friday, February 02, 2007

O'Shea Is Not Good Enough To Criticize Keller

Just as Andrew Johnson could never adequately replace Abraham Lincoln, so James O'Shea will never adequately replace Dean Baquet. He and David Heller should return to Chicago, the Tribune Co. should be broken up, and the L.A. Times be restored to local control.

These conclusions are no-brainers. And the more O'Shea talks, as he did to the L.A. Weekly's Nikki Finke, the more he puts his foot in his mouth and proves himself unworthy to be editor of the Times or a (part-time) resident of Southern California.

"There's some pretty well-written stuff in the (LAT), But my emphasis is on shorter articles," O'Shea states. "People don't have a lot of time."

What this means is that O'Shea wants to dumb down the Times to the abysmal level of the Chicago Tribune and treat Los Angelenos as if they were hicks like Chicagoans. He is so used to his inferior city that he thinks every Californian should sink to its level. And, of course, aware that Tribune is shrinking the L.A. Times news hole, O'Shea wants to go ahead with Tribune's treatment of the Times as the wicked stepmother treated Cinderella.

Also, O'Shea states he is fed up with Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times for stating, "(The Washington Post will) probably go hire all the good people from the L.A. Times...All the good people who are left after we've finished our own hiring."

"Somebody sitting in New York isn't a god of journalism," O'Shea says. "I personally don't take shots at their paper."

What a fool! James O'Shea isn't fit to fetch coffee for Bill Keller, and he's certainly not fit to defend the L.A. Times against personnel raids from the Washington Post, the New York Times, or, for that matter, the Valley News.

Now that he's moved into Manhattan Beach, probably so he can eye all the stewardesses who live there, and is driving his Lexus downtown, O'Shea is pretending he is a legitimate resident of this area.

Not for long, I hope. Otherwise, we'll see just how persona non grata he is when the Tribune resumes cut backs at the Times.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Russia, Qatar Can't Make Hamas Respectable

When Hamas scored a surprise victory in Palestinian elections last year, I, for one, had hoped it would mark a turn in that organization, that it would move toward respectability by entering more into the mainstream. I didn't expect it would recognize Israel right away, but I hoped it would move in that direction.

Alas, the organization is just as foolish and extreme as it ever was. It has turned Gaza and the West Bank toward the kind of sectarian violence that afflicts Iraq, and it has proven itself not an organization worthy of any respect. Now, not a day goes by but that it is engaged in terrorism, not only against Israel, but against fellow Muslims and Christian Palestinians.

How ironic, indeed, that the net consequence of al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Mahdi army and other assorted Muslim crazies is that Muslims are killing Muslims by the many thousands while the non-Muslim world looks on aghast. When American and British liberals accuse the Bush Administration of starting all of this, I cannot agree. The chief responsibility for the present grim situation lies with the Muslim extremists of various stripes. It is contemptible that the rest of the Muslim world doesn't speak out against the carnage. It makes you wonder how many Muslims are really moderate.

Now, in the latest twist of the Arab-Israeli conflict, some outsiders, such as the Russians or the Emir of Qatar, are suggesting that Israel should initiate talks with Hamas.

What is there to talk about at this point? When someone launches a drive-by shooting at your house, or guns down your children, or blows up structures in suicide bombings, there is no point in talking with them. They must be confronted, arrested, imprisoned, and, if they keep firing, killed.

Now, that is what not only the Israelis but the Fatah organization, the former PLO, are doing. Every day in Gaza and the West Bank, more Hamas terrorists are killed.

It is discouraging, moreover, to observe the Putin regime in Russia drifting back toward support of various Muslim extremists, be it Hamas, Syria or Iran, the same position the old Soviet Union had. One would have thought that after the Chechen war, the Russians would have realized these people are far outside the normal realm of world politics, and cannot be treated as if they were part of it.


Two articles in the L.A. Times in recent days are worthy of special commendation.

First, when the race horse Barbaro had to be euthanized, Times sports columnist Bill Dwyre wrote a wonderful article about public admiration of the horse and the long, costly medical struggle to save him. This time, unlike Dwyre's original Barbaro column at the Preakness, the Times editors wisely put it on page one, recognizing this was a major story. Dwyre's effort contrasted with T.J. Simers' sports column the following day asking what the fuss was about, and depicting Barbaro as no different than a squirrel which had been run over. Despite all the complimentary e-mails Simers later printed for his work, he could not escape furthering the impression that he is an insensitive lout, and not as funny as some think he is.

Second, Tim Rutten had an excellent book review on Chalmer Johnson's latest book attempting to shovel America into the ash bin of history. Rutten's book reviews are almost uniformly good.

The Dwyre and Rutten articles show that even under David Hiller and James O'Shea, the L.A. Times remains capable of doing some things right.