Thursday, May 31, 2007

Lou Dobbs Disgraces Himself And CNN

Since the Fox News Network, with its strong Republican bias, emerged as the leading cable news network in terms of numbers of viewers, CNN has scrambled to try to catch up. Gradually, it too, has become biased in certain ways, although different ones.

Nowhere is this clearer than in its presentation of Lou Dobbs, a man so put off by Latino immigration that he has become a literal Father Coughlin on the subject, broadcasting repeated demagogic reports.

Dobbs devotes parts of nearly every broadcast to the subject he has obsessed on, and gradually he has accumulated quite an audience. Like Fox, CNN doesn't care if it sensationalizes. Anything to gain in the ratings. Not only Dobbs, but its Headline News has become an exemplary of yellow journalism. (Wolf Blitzer and some of CNN's other broadcasters, such as the outstanding Christine Amanpour, retain their high standards).

Wednesday, the New York Times ran a column by the respected David Leonhardt in its Business section detailing several instances of Dobbs purveying statistics that are both alarming and wrong, inviting extremist commentators to appear on his show and then seeking to respond to critics with obfuscation and further dishonesty.

The Leonhardt column should be must reading for all Americans who care about honorable journalism, and it is to be hoped that CNN management will pay attention as well. At least, they should rein Dobbs in and demand that he cease distortions and falsifications.

Illegal immigration is a subject that gives itself to sensationalistic charges. Many people feel strongly about it, and Congress is presently in a major debate about the provisions of a new proposed law on immigration, which both would put controls on it and allow many of those immigrants already here to obtain citizenship in time through rather complicated bureaucratic procedures. Fees for making the proper applications would be dramatically increased.

Dobbs is not really contributing to that worthwhile debate, because he mainly seems to be determined to scare people.

Leonhardt's main example of this is Dobbs' repeated statements that illegal immigrants have caused a surge in the numbers of leprosy cases in the United States. This is a dread disease, but Dobbs' claims that there have been 7,000 cases in recent years are a demonstrable falsehood. The best authorities simply deny it. The actual number of leprosy cases are so negligible as to not be a major public health concern.

Dobbs' statistics on the number of illegal aliens in U.S. prisons also turn out to be wildly exaggerated, and his habit of browbeating critics, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, is reminiscent of the late senator Joseph McCarthy, who screamed Communist as often as Dobbs does illegal alien.

Patriotism, it has been said, is all too often the "last refuge of a scoundrel," and the louder Dobbs shouts about all his left-wing enemies, the more the suspicion has to be that he has little determination to correct mistakes and be truthful.

In a statement responding to the Leonhardt column, Dobbs states, the column subjects him to a "scurrilous personal attack" and he lumps the New York Times, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Nation magazine, MALDEF and MEChA as "left wing." These are all respected exponents of liberal and/or Latino views. They are not "left wing."

As U.S. difficulties in today's fractious world have grown, many Americans are looking for simple explanations of the nation's problems. Lou Dobbs is among those giving them to them, and, as I say, CNN must take care not to allow him to railroad the American public, or itself as a network be railroaded by him as a commentator.


It is certainly understandable that the L.A. Times would run the issues pertaining to Kobe Bryant, the Lakers' basketball star who is now demanding to be traded, or Lindsay Lohan, the Hollywood actress who has been having drinking and drug problems, on Page 1. Both are major public personalities in Los Angeles, and there is substantial public interest in reading about them.

But at the same time, the Times must beware of giving itself overly to celebrity journalism. Just this week, Nancy Cleeland, the Business reporter who lost her labor beat and then took the buyout, warned that the paper's decision to hire a new celebrity beat reporter, instead of a new reporter to cover very important economic inequalities in this area, is not the most responsible journalism.

I think the Times is big enough to cover both kinds of stories. But certain sections, such as the relatively new Envelope section, are a waste of space. The one yesterday had nothing of real value, except, perhaps, a few nice pictures.

The paper cannot overcome its circulation problems by giving readers pap like Envelope.

According to a memo by the usurping publisher, David Hiller, that I will examine tomorrow, the inept Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons is arriving in Los Angeles on a business trip, I suppose to further muck around with the L.A. Times. FitzSimons, an enemy of Los Angeles and all Californians, is not welcome in this city, and should get out immediately. The new owner of the Tribune, Sam Zell, if he wants to succeed, will remove FitzSimons from his position. In the meantime, if you see FitzSimons, throw an egg in his face, if you have one.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Alito Leads A Reactionary Court Against Workers

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, a disreputable ideologue, wrote the 5-4 High Court decision released yesterday that gutted an important feature of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, giving victims of salary discrimination only 180 days to file suit. Since many salary comparisons do not become known until much later, this in effect removes substantial workers rights, is a blow to women and minorities and confirms, as clearly as ever before, that President Bush's appointments of both Alito and John Roberts to the court were highly reactionary.

Alito insisted at his confirmation hearings that he would think independently. He lied. Chief Justice Roberts cloaked himself in a veneer of respectability, when, in fact, he is not respectable.
In the often corrupt system of justice in the Bush Administration, these two, along with Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, form a dishonorable quartet on the court. They are bound on a course to defy the public interest, and are often joined by the right of center Anthony Kennedy in rendering decisions that restrict the rights of the American people. Alito, more than any of the others, can most accurately be described as a petty fascist.

The New York Times editorial on the decision, appearing in the newspaper Thursday, was strong and to the point:

"The Supreme Court struck a blow for discrimination this week by stripping a key civil rights law of much of its potency. The majority opinion by Justice Samuel Alito, forced an unreasonalbe reading on the law, and tossed aside longstanding precedents to rule in favor of an Alabama employe that had underpaid a female employee for years. The ruling is the latest indication that a court that once proudly stood up for the disadvantaged is increasingly protective of the powerful..."

There is no getting around the fact that one of the best arguments to elect a Democrat to the presidency next year is to ultimately bring about court appointments that will reverse this unwholesome trend. If the Democrats were as devoted to protecting American freedoms with action abroad, as they are at home, theirs would be an ironclad case for removal of a Republican from the White House.

In a dissent delivered from the bench, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the Alito opinion "overlooks common characteristics of pay discrimination." She pointed out that given the secrecy in most workplaces about salaries, many employees would have no idea within 180 days that they had received lower raises than others, and the disparity would likely only increase with time.

The New York Times ran the Alito decision as its lead story on Page 1 this morning, which given its significance was the right place for it. The Los Angeles Times ran it back on Page 12, which may reflect the right wing, anti-labor bias of Chicago-toadying publisher David Hiller, and the nebbish editor, James O'Shea.


Buyout losses of the L.A. Times include, in California, Ralph Frammolino. Jenifer Warren, Rone Tempest, Bob Salladay, Mike Kennedy, Jean Guccione, Nancy Cleeland, Nancy Wride, Roy Rivenburg, Gary Polakovic Mai Tran, Valerie Reitman, and Frank Clifford.

Not such a loss is Bob Sipchen, whose ill-informed educational column was the latest in a whole series of assignments he had filled unsuccessfully. Unfortunately for the good of California and the environmental movement, Sipchen is reportedly set to become editor of the Sierra Club's magazine.

In her memo, Janet Clayton said there will be hires to replace some of these folks. They are sure to be lower paid and less professional. The paper, in fact, is no longer great, despite claims Clayton made in her memo.

LA Observed this morning prints the form letters Hiller and O'Shea have been sending out to the readers who complained about the termination of columnist Al Martinez. They are the same kind of pap we have come to expect from these two usurpers and enemies of California.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

L.A. Times' Impressive Editorial On Global Warming

The L.A. Times, showing that Jim Newton is taking hold as the paper's new editorial page editor, had an editorial Monday on global warming that constituted one of the best efforts yet in any American newspaper to come to grips with the issues growing out of it.

Having carefully examined several alternatives for action, the Times came out in favor of a carbon tax to collect from industries and others contributing to the dire threat, and to encourage the use of alternative, non-polluting uses of energy.

The editorial did not examine some of the more exotic means of dealing with the warming, mentioned in the New York Times' science pages, but quite clearly rather far in the future. These include putting some a kind of screen between the sun and the Earth to reduce the amount of sunlight that warms the world's atmosphere. Obviously, this would be a mammoth undertaking that would have to be done extremely carefully to avoid possibly unexpected adverse consequences.

Another omission in Monday's Times editorial was any candid discussion of the disturbing fact that as China, India and other quickly developing countries in the Third World grow economically they are using more energy and putting pressure on the global environment. It will do little good, if Western countries curtail the use of coal to develop electricity and take other steps to reduce global warming, if the Chinese and Indians outweigh all of our efforts by not taking any of their own. This must quickly become the subject of ticklish negotiations.

The Times editorial, however, represented a big step forward in discussion of these issues, and it powerfully brought home the point of what warming will mean for California -- eroded beaches, intrusion of salt water into the Sacramento delta region, cutting off the flow of fresh water from the north into Southern California, and reduced snow packs in the Sierra.

All in all, a terrific effort, which points the way to the future.

And it is good to see, too, that the Times editorial pages are putting the goofy Michael Kinsley and Andres Martinez well behind them, and emerging as respectable once again.

(Tuesday's New York Times, in its lead article, reports the coal industry has undertaken a major lobbying campaign to secure federal support for coal gasification plants. These might well prove counterproductive in the campaign to stem global warming).


Nancy Cleeland, among those talented employees who took the L.A. Times buyout, is reported in L.A. Observed this morning as writing to lament the fact that the Times, under the squalid Tribune Co. control, abandoned its labor beat and is opting to cover "celebrity justice" with a new beat rather than economic justice for millions of Los Angelenos.

The Times, writes Cleeland, is "increasingly anti-union in its editorial policy." Cleeland shared in a Pulitzer for the series she participated in on Wal Mart labor practices. Those kinds of stories seldom if ever appear in the Times in the publishership of Ken Starr crony David Hiller.

Meanwhile, there is more fallout from the Times' reprehensible termination of longtime columnist Al Martinez.

Commenting on the insensitive editor, Jim O'Shea's, memo to the staff following "accepting" 57 buyouts, a blogger for the Guardian newspaper in England, Roy Greenslade, writes notably:

"I was particularly struck by the euphemistic corporate gobbledegook employed by the editor, Jim O'Shea, in his explanatory letter to staff. I couldn't really believe a journalist had written such guff. Then, I realized that other people must have been at O'Shea's shoulder as he wrote."

Yes, corporate lawyers or PR men, probably wrote the O'Shea memo, He may even be guilty of plagiarism.

Jamie Gold, the reader representative at the Times, hints in a letter to a reader that O'Shea may be planning a talk with Martinez in light of all the mail and other protests the Times has been receiving for its outrageous termination of the longtime columnist.

I hope, but really am not too optimistic, that O'Shea, normally a Chicago Tribune toady of the first order, may follow a certain Calendar tradition at the Times and offer Martinez the opportunity to continue writing his column as an outside contributor to the Times, just as Chuck Champlain and Kevin Thomas have continued to write occasionally (or Bill Stall has done for the Op Ed Page).


Monday, May 28, 2007

Hillary Clinton And George W. Bush, I'll Take Bush

On this Memorial Day, when the sacrifices of American troops, from the Concord Bridge to the present war in Iraq, are being honored, the Wall Street Journal has an excellent editorial on the meaning of Sen. Hillary Clinton's vote last week in the Senate against funding the Iraq war.

"The vote," the Journal writes, "marks the end of Mrs. Clinton's post-9/11 positioning as a national security hawk. Her 2002 speech supporting war in Iraq was among the most forceful in the Senate, and for a while she admirably stuck with that conviction. But as the antiwar furies have built in her party, she has bent with them and now says and does whatever it takes to deny Mr. Obama or John Edwards any running room to her left. Perhaps this will win her the Democratic nomination, but it will complicate her Presidency if she ever does make it to the Oval Office. The Iranians, among others, will have seen that she can be turned when the going gets tough.

"Which brings us back to the current President. Whatever his mistakes as a war leader, Mr. Bush at least hasn't betrayed our allies or troops in the field for the sake of reviving his poll numbers. He was also right to defend the war powers of the Presidency against Congressional micromanagement. His obligation now is to do whatever it takes to succeed in Iraq so that the men and women fighting this war will not sacrifice in vain."

I think this says it as succinctly as it can be said. And, by the way, this is not the first time Mrs. Clinton has folded her tents under pressure. When President Clinton put her in charge of developing a health plan, and the couple encountered the adverse advertising of the disgraceful insurance industry, they folded their tents then too.

It's just essential that this country holds fast in the War on Terror. Not doing so would give the terrorists encouragement to spread and intensify their campaign against us. I will always admire the President for refusing to yield to the pigeons in Congress and particularly the Democratic party.

The New York Times today too has a nice Memorial Day Op Ed page piece. The L.A. Times editorial pages ignore Memorial Day, which is a mistake not likely to be missed by many readers. The L.A. Times' best Memorial Day article is in the Calendar section by the ousted columnist, Al Martinez, remembering a Marine-mate lost in the Korean War in the bitter retreat from North Korea at the end of 1950. Martinez shows again just what is being lost in forcing him to take a buyout. His last column is scheduled June 1.


One of the unwisest things the Lebanese government ever did was to give assurances back in 1969 that the Palestinian refugee camps were outside its scope of power. That opened the way to every extreme faction seizing control over the Palestinians, one of the Earth's most undisciplined and gullible peoples, and opened Lebanon to one outrage after another.

It comes up again this week as Lebanon tries to confront the crazed terrorists of Al-Qaeda-lining Fatah Al-Islam, several hundred of whom are conveniently holed up in a Palestinian refugee camp outside Tripoli, Lebanon.

On the one hand, these terrorists say, "Remember the 1969 agreement, don't come into the camp against us." On the other, if the Lebanese Army comes in, the terrorists threaten to "burn down Beirut."

Most of the authentic refugees have now fled the camp. Now, is the time to go in and finish off this group, once and for all. There is really no expedient that works with terrorists other than to eliminate them. The Palestinians once again, in all their customary dishonor, are suggesting the Lebanese government temporize with the terrorists and just give them time to mediate. If the Palestinians can't live within Lebanon, in line with its standards, they ought to leave the country, and promptly, just as the slimy Yasser Arafat, finally pulled out.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

Build Rapid Transit Rail, No Matter What The Price

There's a tendency in the press, and it's certainly evident at the Los Angeles Times, to overstate the difficulties of any course, but especially when money has to be raised, or projects built.

Harry Chandler, an early publisher of the Times, has gone down in history as a reactionary, because of his Republican allegiances, and his unfairness to Democrats and organized labor. But at least Chandler helped mightily to build things. He was instrumental in the project that brought water to the city and let it grow. And he had no hesitancy about transit and other projects the facilitated the growth of the city. Los Angeles would not have four million people today without him.

All this seems to me to be pertinent when I read the story headlined, "MTA rail projects may not get there despite fare hike," by Jeffrey Rabin and Rong-Gong Lin in Saturday's Times.

First, the fare hike. There has been far too much angst over this. Of course, there needs to be a fare hike. It's been quite a few years since there was one, there is nothing about this that is going to put people into poverty,or stop them from using the system, and the money is clearly needed to build and operate a better transit system at a time when the metropolitan area is stifling in traffic and gas prices continue to soar.

A fare hike will help both to erase operating deficits, and provide money to operate new lines. But its chief value may be to convince officials in Congress and the White House budget office that Angelenos are serious about better transit, and that they ought to support it with federal appropriations. Certainly, without federal aid, the much-needed subway from Wilshire and Western out to Santa Monica will never be built. But federal subsidies are needed too for other necessary lines, and state money out of recently authorized bond issues must be encouraged to be allocated too.

One of the best things about the Rabin-Lin article was its graphic, the map of existing rail lines and a thumbnail sketch of proposed lines. Not only should all these lines be built, but others may be wise as well. What about the prospects of a line from LAX up through the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys to the Palmdale Airport? What about the proposed Orange County to Las Vegas high speed rail line? Neither of these were even shown among the proposals, though they have been discussed for a long time.

Some projects, such as the extension of the Gold Line to Montclair, and the extension of the Green Line to LAX should have gotten underway a long time ago. The Rabin-Lin article makes them sound iffy, when they are essential.

This would be a good subject of articles, if not a crusade, in Jim Newton's new editorial pages.
It would be a way for the Tribune Co. to show just a small degree of devotion to the Los Angeles area.

The news sections are doing a fairly good job of writing about the transit issue. It's in the paper every few days. But both the paper's editors and municipal leaders have to show the interest and determination to move ahead, and quickly.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

O'Shea Fails To Promise No More Buyouts

One significant omission in L.A. Times "editor" James O'Shea's latest memo to the Times staff, as a friend noted to me today, was any promise that the latest destructive buyout will be the last. Already, there are rumors of another buyout in December.

But Bill Boyarsky, the retired Times city editor who in the past has had a good feel for these things, suggests in his blog on the forced retirement of Times columnist Al Martinez for L.A. Observed that O'Shea and "publisher" David Hiller are "short timers" seeking frantically to hold their own positions by throwing so many talented writers and editors over the side.

The question is, what will happen when the new Tribune Co. owner, Sam Zell, is fully in charge at the end of the year. Zell is already on the Tribune board, and presumably is giving advice to the inept Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons. But the latest buyout at the Times still bore the marks of FitzSimons' customary myopia, and one hope in this situation is that Zell, when he is completely in charge, will see the need for new hands in Los Angeles, and promptly send O'Shea and Hiller packing, not to mention FitzSimons. After all, Zell is said to be a smart man.

Boyarsky, in his blog, states at the conclusion:

"The current buyouts were not mandated to improve the paper. Improvement has nothing to do with it. They are the actions of frightened Tribune executives trying to cut spending to look good, so that Sam Zell, the next new owner, won't fire them. They are short timers in these operations. They don't care about the paper's past or its future, except for the immediate bottom line.

"Al (Martinez) is the best known of the buyout targets. Other talented people have been forced out. Some were veterans, and others in the mid course of their careers. Managerment has cut the guts out of the paper and the readers will suffer."

I hope, and expect, Boyarsky is right. Months before Mark Willes had the Times-Mirror newspapers sold out behind his back by a disloyal employee acting on behalf of the Chandler family, Boyarsky told me he was sure Willes and his laughably incompetent sidekick, Kathryn Downing, s would soon be gone.

When O'Shea and Hiller do go, let's hope their own buyouts will not be overly generous. Three dollars and kicks in the pants would suffice.

In the meantime, the Martinez buyout reflected, as Martinez himself said, "shabby" treatment of an old employee. And he was by no means the only victim.


We might note the passing this week of Roy Ringer, a former aide of the late great California Gov. Pat Brown and an editorial writer at the L.A. Times for 10 years, from 1974 to 1984. Ringer was one of the talented members of Tony Day's editorial page staff, and we can only hope the new Times editorial page editor, Jim Newton, will be able to assemble his own able staff.

Jerry Clark has a colorfully-written memoir of Ringer's career on the OFS wire today. Ringer was a thoughtful writer and will be missed.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Bullshit Artist O'Shea Pretends To Be Timesman.

Every time the Tribune Co. fulfills a new part of its plan to downsize the Los Angeles Times and mistreat Los Angeles readers, we can count on James O'Shea, the traitorous Times editor and Chicago toady, to issue a statement saying he hopes so much for a great future for the Times.

But unfortunately, O'Shea has no more credibility than Pierre Laval had when he claimed to be defending French interests in World War II, while kowtowing to the Nazis. Laval was executed by the Gaullist administration after the war.

Need anyone be reminded that while John Carroll, Dean Baquet, John Puerner and Jeffrey Johnson all stood up and put their Times jobs on the line rather than bow to Tribune cost cutting and layoffs, O'Shea, and the despicable David Hiller, publisher, put up no resistance whatsoever to the latest Tribune depredations? When the Tribune CEO, the equally despicable Dennis FitzSimons told them to jump, they jumped with such alacrity that all their respectability vanished.

Now, O'Shea says Tribune has accepted 57 Times buyouts, of which, he asserts, only "a very small number" were involuntary. But he gives no exact numbers, and my understanding is that many of the buyouts were at least "encouraged" by management. When a person falls from the Empire State building, maybe he jumped voluntarily, but we have to assume that in many cases, it was not completely voluntarily.

The O'Shea buyout statement also says that the Times poll is being "reevaluated." This can only mean that the poll, once a proud adjunct to the Times, will be further pared in frequency and quality, which has happened already.

This is like TV Guide, which was cut and cut until finally, one day recently, it was cut out altogether, with the promises for better regular daily TV listings not kept.

O'Shea also says the Times Web site is being improved. So far, not much. The Web site continues to trail way behind the New York Times. In cases where I've looked for something lately, it either hasn't been there, or has hardly been there. And the Times Web site seems to take longer to come to the screen than the New York Times Web.

Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that I've kept an internal category on my blog entitled "O'Shea Crap" and that since he replaced the fired Baquet, he's appeared in that category five times.

I was told not long ago that O'Shea had appeared at a Los Angeles dinner honoring the Times' outstanding Sacramento columnist, George Skelton, and that he tried to appear convivial.

Again, I'd make the comparison to Laval. Laval tried to appear convivial too, as his Vichy regime shipped the Jews to the death camps. Now, the convivial O'Shea has presided over an unjust and counterproductive buyout. Laval and O'Shea are two of my least favorite characters.
O'Shea in his statement also says there will be new hires to replace some of those lost in the buyout. This is another way of saying that lower-paid people will be brought in to replace the higher-salaried people bought out. This is American business at its most dishonorable: ruining careers of people who had worked for years to attain a decent salary and respectable positions. In The Divine Comedy, Dante reserved a circle in Hell for people who behaved as O'Shea, Hiller and their Tribune overlords have here. I think they were made to suffer forever, while Satan plunged red-hot forks into their bellies.

It still must be explained, today, just why Al Martinez, the ousted Times columnist, had his e-mail blanked out in just one day, more than a week before his scheduled last column. Or is that column June 1 still scheduled?

Meanwhile, O'Shea's statements to the staff just add insult to injury. When will this jerk return to Chicago?


Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama stamped themselves more clearly than before as McGovernites when they voted yesterday against the Iraq war funding bill in the Senate, two of only 14 Democrats to do so. If either should win the Democratic nomination, the voters ought to remember what their support of the troops meant. Will they want to elect a president who will stand up to the nation's enemies, or surrender to them?

Meanwhile, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein did vote for war funding, but the state's other senator, Barbra Boxer, did not. That too should be remembered when Boxer stands for reelection inext time, perhaps against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Al Martinez Forced To Retire By Jackass Tribune Co.

I haven't always agreed with L.A. Times columnist Al Martinez, far from it. But I'm chagrined to see him forced to take the buyout by the jackass editor James O'Shea and chickenshit publisher David Hiller, the highly-paid toadies of the Tribune Co.

Martinez, in the newspaper business since 1952, will have his last column in the Times June 1. He has been with the newspaper for 30 years.

He has long been one of the most popular Times columnists. In his 70s, he continues to have legions of admirers. He will certainly be missed.

As an extra shove out the door, Tribune Co. is erasing Martinez's e-mail address as of tonight. Another sporting move by that scoundrel, Hiller. When he fired Dean Baquet as editor, he at least had the grace to allow him to keep his e-mail address for awhile. No such favor to Martinez.

A vile plot continues to be mounted at the Chicago headquarters of the Tribune Co. to denigrate the Times as a newspaper, to slam California and to treat Los Angeles as it is were a smaller city than Chicago. For shame! These cursed sons-of-bitches can't hold a candle to the quality of the career of Al Martinez or so many other Times men and women forced into the buyout.

In an e-mail reported today on L.A. Observed, Martinez writes, "I am a victim of the buyout/layoff frenzy...I always thought that I would be the one to decide when it was time to walk away, when my pace faltered and my thinking blurred. But that's not the way it works any more with the owners we have in the climate that exists. Too bad. I thnk I deserved a better way of ending such a long and honorable career."

He says it better than I could have. My anger at these continued depredations often overcomes my peaceful spirit.

It should be noted that Martinez was not only a graceful, sensitive columnist and author of several books, but a Marine veteran of the Korean war, where he conceived a hatred of all wars. He has been an unsparing critic of the Bush Administration and its war in Iraq. I don't think he was right about this, but I still honor him for the sincerity of his convictions.

Jenifer Warren, Mike Kennedy, Simon Li, Cecilia Rasmussen, Frank Clifford, so many others, are being lost to the Times. Lost too is so much of the integrity and quality of the paper, all because of its horrid shortsighted owners.


The Times continues to run much senseless blather on its Op Ed Page. We see it again in Wednesday's silly column by two foreign policy gurus, Clifford Kupchan and Ray Takeyh, who would have joined with Neville Chamberlain in thinking that Hitler was subject to sweet reason. Now, these two socalled savants argue that coercion shouldn't be part of U.S. policy toward Iran, as it feverishly pursues atomic weapons.

"Some will argue that one-track diplomacy (such as they advocate), without threats, will signal U.S. weakness," this duo acknowledge. ABSOLUTELY!

At the same time, CBS News reports the U.S. and other Western powers have undertaken covert action to sabotage Iran's nuclear program. Halleleujah!

The New York Times, which although liberal doesn't have an Op Ed Page editor quite as addicted to running nonsense as the L.A. Times' Nick Goldberg, runs another kind of column on Iran today, this one by Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA officer.

Gerecht, who comments on the imprisonment in Iran of Haleh Esfandiari, an American citizen and Middle East expert, was an adviser to the Iraq Study Group headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, but he doesn't share its conclusions about the utility of talking of the Regime of the fanatic Mullahs the way Esfandiari did.

He writes, "The clerical regime today is no more interested in reaching a peaceful modus vivendi with the United States thasn it was in the 1990s, when President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright all but begged President Mohammad Khatami of Iran to just talk to them." (You remember Clinton and Albright. They were the weak-kneed Ameriucan leaders who wouldn't kill off Osama bin Laden when they had the chance.)

Diplomacy alone won't work, Gerecht writes. "Neither the Europeans nor the Americans will find any common ground with the clerical regime as long as Mrs. Esfandiari languishes in prison. Until she is freed, it will remain clear that the regime understands nothing other than brute force."


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Is This The Last Gasp For The Bush Iraq Policy?

Despite the Democrats' apparent decision in Congress to give way to the President on the Iraq funding, the vote, and it still could be close, to keep the funds coming without a withdrawal deadline, may represent the last time the Bush policy of fighting on is approved without change.

The new funding authorization would only be good through Sept. 30, and as Doyle McManus, the L.A. Times Washington Bureau Chief, LAT columnist Ron Brownstein and others have been writing, unless there is definite progress in the war effort by September, the political situation in Washington may well have changed with the balance shifting against the President.

The Democratic Congressional majority is giving way now, because it simply doesn't have the votes to override a Presidential veto. Much of what has been going on in Congress has been shadow boxing, because that has been the situation ever since the Democrats won narrow majorities last November.

But U.S. popular disgust with the war, and its war weariness may well result in a shift of Republican attitudes by fall. With the 2008 election approaching, as McManus has written, even many Republicans may insist on a change in war policy.

But the question will still remain, what kind of change?

Even former Sen. John Edwards, on NBC's Today program this morning said he felt that if U.S. forces were withdrawn from Iraq, the U.S. military would have to remain in Kuwait and the Navy keep a strong presence in the Gulf to maintain some kind of a position in the Middle East. However, later in the day, Edwards inconsistently said he thought the "War on Terror" was nothing but a slogan, and there reallly is no such thing. Maybe, Edwards, in having his $450 haircuts, is taking some hair oil that adversely affects the brain, because he frequently doesn't seem to know what he thinks from one moment to the next.

While we are preoccupied, naturally enough, with Iraq, the situation in the rest of the Middle East has already, even without our withdrawal from such a highly strategic country, been deteriorating. New strife has erupted this week in Lebanon, another highly strategic locale, with an Al-Qaeda offshoot, Fatah al-Islam, engaged in a major battle with the Lebanese Army, using a Palestine refugee camp as a base. In Gaza, Hamas, which is increasingly becoming close to both Iran and Al-Qaeda, continues to rain rockets on nearby portions of Israel, while the Olmert government dithers about a full scale invasion of Gaza to get rid of Hamas once and for all.

Within Iraq, a long L.A. Times story this morning, by Garrett Therolf, quotes a U.S. Army captain, Brendan Gallagher, as saying, "I sometimes worry thazt this period will end up going down here as their surge, not ours." This recognizes what is becoming clear -- that Al Qaeda also has stepped up the war, and has both adequate financing and manpower to do so.

Meanwhile, the new President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, sounds a call today for a step up in sanctions against Iran to try to stop its nuclear program. This issue is becoming more and more important, but the fact is, I fear, the Iranian nuclear program will not be stopped without military action, and that alone could bring about a major war in the Middle East.

Also, the New York Times suggests editorially this morning that the time has come to abandon support of Pakistan's military dictator, Pervez Musharaff (although that might bring on a nuclear catastrophy, one might injerject).

If political conditions in the U.S. should mandate this fall at least the beginning of withdrawal from Iraq, it probably would create a vacuum in that country into which the Iranians, or Al Qaeda or both would move. This alone would not only encourage Al Qaeda to pursue its worldwide aspirations, but also send the price of oil soaring to ever higher levels, threatening Western economies.

Yes, it really is unthinkable for us to withdraw from the Middle East altogether, and it is noteworthy that most of the Democratic presidential candidates aren't arguing for such a step.

So, we are entering a very uncertain period. On the assumption, there are no magic rabbits to take out of the hat in Iraq, change is coming in a few months. But what exactly will it be?


Wednesday night came the sad news that the body of Pfc. Joseph Anzack, Jr., 20, has been found near the scene of his kidnapping south of Baghdad, along with two other soldiers. Those soldiers are still missing. Anzack's family in Torrance, California, had received a false rumor of Anzack's death just a short time back, only to hear from him on the telephone. Now, the news is real. We have to send all our sympathies to the Anzack family and all the other families whose sons and daughters have given their lives in the Iraq war.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

State Water, Transportation Bond Funds Diverted

An article in Monday's L.A. Times by Evan Halper and a column by George Skelton, both written out of Sacramento, tell the shocking story of how billions of dollars worth of bonds approved by the electorate to build state water and transportation projects are being diverted into other uses, or the general fund in order to keep the budget balanced.

Not only is this a faithless act directed against the wishes of the electorate, but it is mighty expensive too, since bonds carry heavy interest charges that increase the cost of everything, and up tax bills. For every $1 million spent on bonds projects, nearly $1 million in interest will be paid in the next 20 years. With this kind of arithmetic, it is easy to see that bond financing ought to be kept to a minimum and as many projects as possible built on a pay-as-you-go basis. (The biggest projects, of course, cannot be paid out of the general fund).

Still, this is proof again, if any were needed, that California's government, its governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and its Legislatur,e are not functioning properly.

Yes, as Halper points out, fine print in the bond issues allowed the Legislature to divert some of a $5.3 billion water bond issue to other uses, at the will of the Legislature. But how many voters even read this fine print, or realized what it meant? And how many voters would have voted no rather than yes, had they realized that they were, in fact, voting for a pig in a poke.

How many voters would have voted no, for instance, had they realized that part of the bonds directed ostensibly at making much needed improvements in the state's aqueduct system was going to be used instead for an aquarium in Fresno, a museum in Los Angeles or "water-accessible" accommodations iat Lake Tahoe?

What this is, in a word, is pork barreling.And the legislators responsible for it are no better than the inept Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which frequently directs its attentions away from vital issues, to peripheral or even frivolous ones.

The Skelton column reports that Schwarzenegger, whose lack of regard for scrupulous and honest government can clearly be seen in his appointment of the special interest-loving Susan Kennedy as his executive secretary, is to raid $1.3 billion in bonds directed at building rapid transit to other uses.

Not only is California in desperate need of such transit, but the state has already decided to string out expenditure of the $19 billion authorized in the bond issue. This is against the public interest, since inflation eats into the value of the money as the years go by. If everything is built at once, it will be cheaper than building five or 10 years down the pike.

Of the $19 billion, the first authorized expenditures on highways, for instance, are only $4.5 billion, and even this is being strung out over a few years. Plus it is really disappointing to see that with all this money, the state isn't really building any new freeways or rail lines, but instead is devoting the money to car pool lanes and, in some instances, freeway widening. This, despite the fact, that the state's original freeway master plan was nowhere near followed, and many freeways were never built.

Now, already, after the generosity of the electorate, the talk in Sacramento is all about it being inadequate and how we have to build a network of toll roads to supplement the freeways.

These are small minded politicians, make no mistake, and the governor is among the worst of them.

Skelton notes that the $1.3 billion he wants to divert would go into the general fund for parks, prisons, schools and health care.

For shame! We recalled Gray Davis for less.


Tina Susman, one of the L.A. Times' brave Iraq correspondents, was the author of a deeply shocking story Monday about the case of 17-year-old Diaa Khalil Aswad, the Yazidi girl who was stoned to death because she fell in love with a Sunni Arab boy. The gruesome killing, one of only 40 such recent acts, was videotaped and put on the Net. Among the murderers were the girl's uncle and cousins.

Then, in reprisal, Sunnis seized 20 Yazidis off a bus and executed them. Yazidis are part of a small non-Muslim religious sect in northern Iraq.

Is this the country that the U.S. has been trying to turn into a democracy and spending hundreds of billions of dollars on? Not to mention 3,500 lives of our soldiers.

It points out, at the very least, that we should be in Iraq for our interests alone, and act accordingly. The country needs foreign rule, so that such acts can be prevented. Over 4,000 years, from the days of Nebuchnezzar, it has proved unable to govern itself.

Susman's article was important, but she is too restrained in her use of language, saying the episode points up the "ethnic and religious discord that colors virtually every issue here."

In fact, savagery and barbarism would be more appropriate words to describe what happens in the cases of these "honor killings," as they are outrageously called in the Middle East.


Monday, May 21, 2007

Pakistan Goes Down Hill As U.S. Taken For A Ride

Pakistan is beginning to get the U.S. media focus it deserves, and as more light is shed on what is happening in that benighted dictatorship, the worse it appears things are, or have been for a long time. Since Pakistan has a nuclear arsenal, any prospect that that could fall into terrorist hands, if the government of Pervez Musharraf was ousted, is exceedingly bad news for the whole world, but particularly for us.

Both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times devoted their lead stories Sunday to Pakistani subjects, and both stories were deeply disturbing.

The New York Times, in an article by David Sanger and David Rohde reported that ever since the attacks of 9-11, the United States has been giving about $1 billion a year to the Pakistan armed forces for the purpose of combating al-Qaeda terrorists lodged mainly in the Waziristan border areas of Pakistan next to Afghanistan.

There are no controls over how this money is spent, or even whether it is spent for the stated purpose at all. Last year, the Musharraf government most unwisely entered into a truce agreement with the tribes in Waziristan to suspend substantial armed intervention there in exchange for a supposed agreement by the tribes to rein in Al Qaeda, and the Taliban, and specifically prevent them from attacking across the border the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

There has recently been some fighting between tribes and Al Qaeda or Taliban forces, but for the most part that agreement has not been honored. In fact, the NYT article reports, U.S. forces periodically observe terrorist elements preparing to cross the border, call Pakistani forces on the other side, and then they do nothing.

It is not at all surprising that tribal leaders would say they were going to follow one policy and then follow another, or that Pakistani forces would give the U.S. various assurances in exchange for money, and then not fulfill their part of the bargain. Duplicity is as much a part of Islam as apple or cherry pie are part of America. They are takers, seldom givers.

Now, however, some are saying that with the Musharraf regime under increasing pressure, suspending the $1 billion-a-year gift could be counterproductive, and this bunch of rogues would henceforth become even less friendly or reliable than they have been up to now.

It would, I think, be far more productive to use the funds to prepare for the possibility that Indian forces might have to seize the Pakistani nuclear facilities to prevent them from falling into Al Qaeda hands. The British, when they quit the Indian subcontinent in 1947, should never have permitted the Muslim fakir, Jinnah, to split Pakistan away from India, and, rather than see this unnecessary country become a terrorist headquarters, we may, sooner rather than later, have to work to dismember it. The Indians, recognizing the danger, would certainly be willing allies in such an eventuality.

Meanwhile, in the Los Angeles Times, Sunday, a story by Greg Miller reports on a special CIA task force which has fruitlessly been trying to find Osama bin Laden and run him to ground, but has been able in the meantime to track the increasing power of Al Qaeda within Pakistan.

It is possible, as I've suggested before, that bin Laden is living somewhere else, such as his native Saudi Arabia, or, for all we know, in Paris. But regardless of that, there can be no question that Al Qaeda is now a major force in Pakistan, which has been shown to be a training ground tor the Al Qaeda-inspired terrorists in Britain and other European countries, not to mention Al Qaeda activities elsewhere in the Middle East, Iraq. Lebanon and Gaza among the places.

On the L.A. Times Op Ed page today, the columnist Niall Ferguson, in an otherwise feckless column that tries to blame all the world's problems on President Bush, suggests that a crisis may soon occur in both Israeli-Iran relations and Pakistan. He states in his concluding paragraph, "With war looming between Iran and Israel, and Pakistan on the brink of an upheaval that could well end with Islamists in power, the worst bloodshed has to come."

The danger is becoming more proximate. Just today, there are reports of a standoff between an Al Qaeda-linked mosque in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad and the Pakistani police. The mosque is threatening Jihad if the police try to rescue two policemen that the mosque has kidnapped. Muslim kidnappings? Where have we heard that before?


The Los Angeles Times and its Web site, despite the recent addition of LAT correspondents in the Middle East, is lagging behind the New York Times and Washington Post in covering some important Middle East developments. Just today, for example, while the NYT leads its paper with an account of the outbreak of major fighting in Lebanon between the Lebanese Army and the Al-Qaeda-linked Fatah-al-Islam (its leader was interviewed just in March in the L.A. Times by the way) in a Palestinian refugee camp in the city of Tripoli, the L.A. Times plays the story on Page 3. The Web site did not have it last night on its main page, either.

This won't do. By far, the most important developments in the world today are taking place, day after day, in the Middle East, and, the L.A. Times editors simply must give them the most prominent play in order to adequately serve its readers. The L.A. Times did have an excellent Iraq story on Page 1 today, but the Lebanon battles also belonged there.

The L.A. Times is often blinded to realities by a willful liberal bias that prevents it from thinking realistically. On Sunday, in the Opinion section, a new editorial calls for the admission of more Iraqi refugees into the United States, which, thankfully has kept most of them out thus far. Anyone who wants to let more Muslims into any Western country these days needs to have his head examined.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

If You Don't Want Murdoch, Don't Sell WSJ To Him

Whenever I get a call from a real estate agent, I hang up on him or her without saying a word. I find this very satisfying, because I then don't have to listen to all the claptrap offers and sales pitches they come up with. (It's also more than justified, a long New York Times article on elderly fraud made clear Sunday, to hang up on telephone marketers seeking personal information. This is often used to clean out private banking accounts. One man cited lost $100,000).

I'd put Rupert Murdoch's offer for the Wall Street Journal in the same hang up category. No matter what he is offering, why should the Bancroft family entertain even for a moment such a distasteful exemplar of crude and wanton greed as a prospect for ruining a great newspaper? One that the Bancroft family has controlled since 1902.

Murdoch's tendency to shade coverage in his newspapers to please the dictators in the People's Republic of China, where he has business interests, is alone a sufficient reason not to so much as listen for one moment to his offer.

His ownership of the Fox News network has been an attempt to subvert the American democratic system and turn the country over to right wing ideologues. It is already a disgrace that that biased network has obtained so many watchers, although, of course, people in this country are free to watch whatever they like. Some like biased, low brow reporting. Murdoch already owns enough outlets to give it to them.

Some attention should certainly be paid to the 76-year-old Murdoch. Since he is from Australia, just how is he living in this country? Is he even an American citizen? Perhaps there are irregularities in his status here that would justify steps to eject him.

When you think about it, Murdoch is a much a predator as someone who preys on small children on the Internet, or one of these scam artists which the New York Times reports today are emptying the accounts of elderly people who foolishly give them personal information on the telephone. The world is filled with evil people, and there aren't enugh jails to put them into.

In the meantime, I find intolerable, at this moment of crisis in print journalism, to contemplate Murdoch getting control over the Wall Street Journal, where he would wreak havoc on the staff, and destroy many careers the way they have been destroyed by the Tribune Co. at its Los Angeles Times and other papers. He is a small type of man, better qualified to buy a chain of garbage dumps or Nevada bordellos than any institution worth so much to a free society.

So I hope against hope we will hear no more of his obscene offer.

Let him devote himself to writing more such diverting headlines as "Headless Body Found In Topless Bar," such as ran in his New York Post.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Olmert Must Stop Hamas Missiles Or Resign

I have not been one of those to caustically criticize Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for his conduct of the war Israel waged last summer against the Hezbollah organization in Lebanon.

Yes, it would have been nice had Israel wiped Hezbollah off the map. Olmert decided not to try, out of fear of much higher Israeli casualties and a possibly wider war. Israel's ground incursion into Lebanon was quite limited, and even Israeli air attacks were kept out of central Beirut. On its side, Hezbollah also showed restraint, firing missiles into Haifa, but not using anywhere as many missiles as it had. After the war was over, Hezbollah claimed victory.

But, still, as time has shown, Israel made quite a bit of progress in the Hezbollah war. The fact is, Hezbollah has not fired a missile into Israel since the war ended in a cease fire Aug. 14, and there have been no further Hezbollah kidnapping expeditions into Israel. A stronger, more assertive United Nations peacekeeping force has been inserted into southern Lebanon. Hezbollah has been preoccupied with trying to widen its and proxy Iranian influence in the Lebanese government, but even in this it has not been successful. And the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has to some extent moderated his tone. Even the Iranians may have backed off a little.

So, despite strong criticism against Olmert that he was too hesitant in the war, and even findings of the Winograd Commission inside Israel that the war was ill-prepared, I still think Olmert has quite a bit to show for it, and, so far, he has withstood calls for his resignation, despite being very low in the polls, in fact, only 3% recently.

Olmert's position as prime minister, however, can only be prolonged, if Israel is successful now in its use of force to stop the terrorist Hamas organization in Gaza from continuing to fire missiles daily at the Israeli city of Sderot and other points outside the Gaza territory.

Hamas is an organization that has increasingly become aligned with Al-Qaeda, and is crazier by quite a degree than Hezbollah. In fact, Hamas, like Al-Qaeda, is a psychotic group that must be resisted now with any force necessary to stop its aggressions against Israeli civilians.

In recent months, as the missiles continued to fly, despite the always half hearted effort of Palestine Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, to rein in the terrorists, Israeli policy has been probably too restrained. For once, the Israelis turned the other cheek to the missile attacks.

However, in the last two weeks, the attacks have intensified. There have been quite a few injuries in Sderot, and about 40% of the 24,000 residents have left the city for safer parts of Israel, as dozens of missiles were fired.

Several days ago, the unpopular Olmert government finally began acting more forcefully. The Israeli Air Force has attacked Hamas installations in Gaza, the Israeli Army has crossed into northern Gaza and taken up positions in some areas from which missiles have been fired, and Israel apparently encouraged Egypt in its decision to allow 500 armed Fatah security forces which had been training in Egypt to cross the Gaza border and take up positions against Hamas in the internecine warfare between Hamas and the more moderate Fatah which has also marked the Gaza situation.

Two years ago, the Israeli government pulled back from Gaza in hopes of allowing the Palestinians themselves to run the pest hole, and to appear more reasonable in its policies of occupying Arab territories.

However, the experiment has not been successful. Gazans promptly elected the radical and terrorist Hamas organization to power, and they have proved just as intransigent and dangerous as ever.

It's now evident, I think, that Israel must see that the missile attacks against its territory from Gaza are ended definitively, no matter what kind of steps it has to take, including a repossession of the Gaza territory. If he cannot bring a cessation of the missile attacks about, Olmert's usefulness as prime minister will be over, and he should resign, allowing more forceful leaders to take over. As long as Israel remains under missile attack, heavy casualties must be inflicted on the enemy, and there are thousands of armed enemies in Gaza.

Meanwhile, there are reports that Israel has been talking with King Abdullah in Jordan to see if the Jordanians might not play a greater role in controlling the West Bank. Jordan possessed the West Bank prior to the Six-Day War in 1967, while Egypt had control in Gaza.

If the Palestinians prove unable to govern themselves peacefully and to keep terrorists from attacks against Israel both in the West Bank and Gaza, it might be wise to bring the Jordanians back. And, it is useful to note, the Mubarak regime in Egypt has just as strong reasons to want to keep Hamas at bay in Gaza, because it does not like Hamas either.


The Washington Post and New York Times have stories this morning about attempts, likely generated by the Russian government, to destroy cyber systems in the Baltic Republic of Estonia, following the decision by the Estonian government to remove a Soviet war memorial in Tallinn, Estonia's capital.

After disruption of many official and private Web sites, Estonian authorities have been able to trace the cyber attacks to official Russian agencies.

This is a disturbingly aggressive act at a time when the Putin regime in Russia has grown noticeably more repressive toward homegrown dissidents and more aggressive and anti-American and NATO in its foreign policy. It also points the way to possible attempts by Al Qaeda and other terrorists to disrupt cyber systems elsewhere in the world.


Friday, May 18, 2007

L.A. Times Has Grown Uneven; Buyouts Are Hurting

The buyouts, the cost cutbacks at the Los Angeles Times are having their effect. The paper can put together great stories, but some bad spots are creeping in. And when you take a look at those planning to take the latest buyout, you shudder. Put them together with several eminent writers and editors who have taken other jobs, and the effect is definitely bad.

Thursday's paper showed what the Times can do, and also what it is unable to do. It has become uneven.

There were excellent stories, three of which deserve special mention.

The lead story in the newspaper was the report by Mexican correspondents Sam Enriquez and Hector Tobar on the rising strains in that country, with an army ill-equipped for the job taking on the drug peddlers. Violence has been spreading, and no one is sure where it will all lead. But Enriquez and Tobar have been on top of the instability in Mexico, and this is obviously an important continuing story for the paper.

The paper has also been doing quite well on the developing Presidential campaign. Thursday, Ralph Vartabedian's long takeout on the aging of Sen. John McCain was a frank, perceptive look at his physical condition, his ailments. It was not too hard on McCain. It simply pointed out that if he's elected and serves two terms, he would be an octogenarian when he finished, and he has a mother still alive at 95, but his father and grandfather died at 70 and 61. McCain, a prisoner of war for more than five years in Vietnam, has had many physical trials in his life. This was a far more comprehensive story about a candidate's health than the New York Times has produced.

A third story that was absolutely fascinating -- and important -- was by Kathy Kristof in the Business section on a New York state consumer lawsuit against the Dell computer makers, who apparently have been engaged in bait-and-switch sales tactics, and haven't been honoring their service conditions. The suit brought by New York Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo may herald others in other states. Dell, in the meantime, has lost its lead position in the industry to Hewlett-Packard. This is, of course, not just an important story. It is partially a California story, although in this state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown has not yet said if he will bring suit.

Any one of these three stories were worth the price of the paper.

But the L.A. Times did not do well on the important Wolfowitz story. On Thursday, the day Paul Wolfowitz finally resigned as head of the World Bank, the New York Times presaged his quitting with the lead story in its newspaper, The headline turned out to be right on the money: "Wolfowitz Said To Push For Deal To Let Him Quit." The story by Steven Weisman was representative of the enhancement of the NYT's Washington bureau that has followed the installation as bureau chief of Dean Baquet, the man so foolishly fired by David Hiller, the new publisher of the Los Angeles Times, because he was publicly resisting the cost cutbacks.

While the NYT had this dead to rights, it was unfortunate that the L.A. Times Wolfowitz story, by Maura Reynolds,way back on Page 16. characterized Wolfowitz as appearing to "dig his heels in deeper." Hours later, Wolfowitz said he would leave.

Reporters can make mistakes, and I certainly made them when I was with the paper. I remember especially how Jack Nelson, the longtime LAT Washington bureau chief, was told that Walter Mondale was likely to be Jimmy Carter's choice for vice president at the 1976 Democratic convention. I resisted putting this tip in the paper, but it went in anyway, and Nelson, as usual, was right.

Still, when Baquet was named the NYT's Washington bureau chief , LAT Washington Bureau Chief Doyle McManus vowed to compete with him effectively, and it isn't always happening.

A lot of the fault may rest in Los Angeles. For instance, why, when Wolfowitz did resign, did they not run it this morning (Friday) on Page 1? It was clearly big news. The resignation of Wolfowitz, one of the principal neocons associated with the Bush Administration, did not belong on Page 17. The New York Times played it on Page 1 as their off-lead.

This is a small thing, but again Thursday, as for every day for years, the L.A. Times TV listings got some times wrong. Sometimes, it is referring to Eastern time instead of Pacific Time. So, for instance, the Sci Fi's channel had the movie, "The Day After," starting at 9 p.m., when, in fact, in Los Ange;es it started at 6 p.m.

As I say, there are bright spots. Obituaries continues to be one of them. Stephanie Simon's long obit on Jerry Falwell this week was superior to the NYT's. But, overall, these are sad days at the L.A. Times. We could all pretend things are fine. But they're not, and I don't think it helps not saying so.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Noam Levey Bias Shows In Reporting On Senate Vote

The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times show sharply varying approaches today in reporting on yesterday's vote in the U.S. Senate, 67-29, to reject the Feingold-Reid proposal to cut off funding for the Iraq war on March 31, 2008, with Noam Levey's story in the Los Angeles Times being the most prejudiced and irresponsible.

Levey for weeks now has showed antiwar emotion, reporting with near slobbering admiration every step taken by antiwar Democrats that would force a U.S. surrender. Levey even gave special attention in a separate article to three California members of the House who wanted to go much further than the House Democratic leadership in terminating U.S. involvement in the war immediately.

So perhaps it should have come as no shock to me to find that this morning, Levey writes a grossly misleading lead, ignoring the main news of the day, and grasps for every straw in hoping against hope that the war will end as soon as possible with a U.S. defeat. But, I confess, I'm always shocked when reporters in Washington fail to do their duty to the public in such a blatant way.

Both the Washington Post and New York Times stories are clear about what happened yesterday in the Senate, the Post the clearest.

The Post lead, by Shailagh Murray, is, "The Senate yesterday soundly rejected a symbolic bid to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq within a year, underscoring the lingering divisions within the Democratic party on how hard to push President Bush to end the war.

"Despite heavy public opposition to the conflict, 19 Democrats broke with their party's antiwar leadership to oppose cutting off funding by March 31, 2008, joining 47 Republicans and one independent in the 67 to 29 vote."

Although the New York Times played this vital story below the fold on Page 14, its story, by Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny, was still honest. Its lead said:

"Congressional Democratic leaders signaled on Wednesday that they were ready to give ground to end an impasse with President Bush over war spending after the Senate soundly rejected a Democratic plan to block money for major combat operations in Iraq beginning next spring.

"The 67-to-29 vote against the proposal demonstrated that a significant majority of Senators remained unwilling to demand a withdrawal of forces despite their own misgivings and public unease over the war."

Levey's lead in in the Los Angeles Times was deplorably misleading, missing the central point of the day completely under an innocuous headline far back in Section one of the paper.

The lead here was, "Forty-four Republican senators backed a plan Wednesday to tie continued economic aid to Iraq to the performance of its government, the strongest demonstration yet of GOP willingness ro impose limits on President Bush's management of the war.

"And in an indication of growing Democratic resolve to force an end to the war, a majority of Democratic senators supported a second measure to cut off funding for most combat operations in Iraq by the end of March."

The Levey story never even mentions that 19 Democratic senators voted with the crushing majority against the antiwar plan. If it had been written by Al-Qaeda propaganda in Quetta, Pakistan, it could not have been more biased.

When something like this happens, of course, it is not the responsibility of a lone reporter. The Los Angeles Times' Washington bureau chief, Doyle McManus, assigned Levey to this story and bears some of the responsibility, as does the National desk in Los Angeles.

There will, I predict, be a day of reckoning in this war in which those who opted for an American surrender, such as a Los Angeles Times editorial did last week, will regret that they ever took their positions, no matter how sincere they are today.

But Levey, I daresay, is insincere.


In order for President Bush to successfully persevere in the war, he is going to have to be sure his administration is in order. In this vein, it seems to me it would be wisest for the President to tell both his attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, and the head of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz, that they must resign.

Both men are caught up in embarrassing scandals in which they have done neither an honest nor a skillful job in defending their positions. This blog first called for Gonzales' resignation on March 13. It has taken both men too long to go, and President Bush too long to require that they do so.

Later in the day, Wolfowitz did resign, saying he would be gone by June 30. He ouight to go sooner than that, but this is a step forward. Now, it's Gonzales' turn.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Blair Gets It Right; Losing Iraq Spreads Al-Qaeda

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in an interview Tuesday with NBC's Brian Williams, used just the right word to describe what would happen with Al-Qaeda were the U.S. and Britain to lose the Iraq war.

Al-Qaeda, he said, would then be in the "ascendancy" throughout the Middle East, if not the whole world.

To prevent that state of affairs, essentially, is why we are fighting in Iraq. On the one side are our gallant armies, fighting a long, bitter war. On the other is the world's worst scum since the Nazis, a terrorist group that does not scruple to murder thousands of its coreligionists, kidnap and kill opposing soldiers and neutral journalists, and use such exotic weapons as poison gas and suicide bombings to get its way. If the war is lost, it will be a signal to spread these tactics ever more widely, and they are already seen, outside Iraq, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Gaza, Somalia, Algeria, Morocco, the Sudan, the Philippines and Thailand, to name the most afflicted countries.

This, I believe, is why the U.S. Senate voted just today 67 to 29 to defeat a resolution authored by Senators Harry Reid and Russ Feingold, and supported by Democratic wimps such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama that would cut off funding for the Iraq war as of March 31, 2008. The Senate majority, which included 19 Democrats, 47 Republicans, and one independent, realize, despite dovish public sentiment, that this country simply cannot afford to lose in Iraq. That the vote was significant was clear when Sen. Reid promptly remarked that the Congress would send President Bush an Iraq funding bill he would be willing to sign by the end 0f next week. But the two liberal newspapers which have editorialized we should throw in the towel in Iraq, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, barely mentioned the vote on their Web sites by evening. The New York Times had a line referring to it on its main Web page, and the L.A. Times didn't refer to it on its main page at all. So much for fair journalism.

It is frequently said by the opponents of the war that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was not aligned with Al-Qaeda before the war began. But it cannot be seriously contested that Al-Qaeda is there today and is the principal component of the war against us.

Now, to return to Blair, he is stepping down as Prime Minister after 10 years in power, longer than any U.S. President is constitutionally allowed to serve. And all the people who are ready to see him as a "poodle" to President Bush are ready to say his Iraq policy has failed. The L.A. Times Op Ed Page, dissatisfied with saying this just once today, had two articles belittling Blair, but Ron Brownstein's was so turgidly written that I suspect very few read it.

Regardless what the critics say, as long as freedom continues to exist in the U.S., Britain and other Western countries, as long as the battle in Iraq continues, I do not think Blair and Bush have failed. I am grateful to both of them for carrying on this war to preserve our freedoms. No price is too high to pay to accomplish that.

Also, we should send our best wishes today to the Israeli government, confronted with an unraveling of the Palestinian Authority, locked in its own internecine conflict in Gaza, where Hamas, which is increasingly representing Al-Qaeda in the Holy Land, has welshed on its agreement to enter into a unity government, is now openly murdering members of the more moderate Fatah and continues to send rockets into Israel to wound and kill innocent civilians.

It may well be necessary for Israel to take further military action to make certain Hamas does not prevail.

It would be splendid if this were a peaceful world. Due to the terrorists, it isn't, and we must hold up our interests in the fight.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

NYT Depicts Problems at WSJ, Minneapolis, CBS

The New York Times Business section Monday was a real tour-de-force on the intensifying problems with media profits and ratings. Special attention was directed to the Wall Street Journal, the Minneapolis Star Tribune (no relation to the Tribune Co.) and the lagging Katie Couric nightly news on CBS.

At least, it is clear, the L.A. Times has company in its misery, as declining advertising revenues and competition from the Internet increasingly are bringing in their wake more and more layoffs or prospects of layoffs.

"At The Wall Street Journal, Slim Margins Open Door to Murdoch," is the headline on the article by Richard Perez-Pena. He postulates that costs associated with the Journal's new Saturday edition could plunge Dow Jones, the controlling company, into the red this year. Also, he reports, the Journal's attempt to charge viewers of its Web site is holding down the number of viewers and perhaps costing the Journal Web advertising revenues. All this has opened the way to the Murdoch bid, which could end with a tragic loss of integrity and quality at the Journal. (I've been thinking of my former L.A. Times colleague Lee Hotz, who recently quit the Times and went to the Journal as a science columnist. He seems to have jumped from the frying pan into the fire. He is much too erudite for Rupert Murdoch if, God forbid, he obtains control of the Journal.)

The Journal has the second largest circulation of any paper in the country, just behind USA Today, and until recently it seemed on solid ground. But it has suffered a 4% decline in advertising this year when it had predicted gains. And it has heavy news-gathering expenses. The controlling Bancroft family has in the past been willing to accept less of a return to keep the Journal a great newspaper. Murdoch would not be at all so willing.

This article is most provocative when it discusses the Internet quandary. How do you cope with the challenges this new medium poses? Google is doing a tremendous business, mostly by selling ads, but newspapers have floundered around trying to come to grips with how to make the Internet lucrative as well as popular, as Wall Street and private investors put pressure on the big papers, including the New York Times as well for that matter, to turn a higher profit.

Some had felt that when the McClatchy papers sold the Minneapolis Star Tribune to Avista Capital, a private equity group, it meant the newspaper would make a turnaround. Avista executives at first talked growth, not layoffs, just as Sam Zell has been doing at the Tribune Co.

But, in fact, layoffs have been the order of the day at both companies. Avista seems to have underestimated the problems in Minneapolis, and the New York Times column by the usually astute David Carr implies these problems are so bad, the paper could go under. The paper's staff is protesting, but it is seemingly powerless to avoid a major downsizing of the paper.

And, apparently, losses of advertising and Internet problems are widely felt all across the country in the newspaper industry. They can no longer be ignored. But how to cope with them is a huge question.

The third article in the NYT Business section reported that CBS seems to be sticking with Couric, despite the fact her network news lags badly behind ABC and NBC and even about 4% below what CBS was getting in watchers before Couric took over as anchor. Last week, CBS reached its lowest point as a news network in 20 years. A sizable 29% minority of viewers say they do not like Couric, who at the Today program on NBC, was very popular. Only 51% say they like her. This compares with negative-positive numbers of about 20-60% for her competitors, ABC's Charles Gibson, and NBC's Brian Williams.

Bill Carter reports in this piece that an attempt to give CBS news a softer cast, and new features, has not worked, and the show is returning to a harder newscast with a new producer.

Carter remarks notably, "Ms. Couric's defenders ask whether a man taking the CBS job would have had his looks, hair, and clothes commented on in the same way as Ms. Couric's. Or if a single male anchor's social life would be almost daily fodder for the tabloids.

"'Maybe we underestimate the huge shift this represented," (Sean) McManus , (president of CBS News), said. "It was almost a watershed event to have a woman in that chair." He added, "There is a percentage of people there that probably prefers not to get their news from a woman."

I wonder whether the same group which the CBS News executive talks about in such a politically incorrect way will be any more accepting of a woman candidate for U.S. President (Hillary Clinton).

When you read the New York Times Business section Monday, in short, you couldn't escape the notion that the new media is in a revolutionary phase that will not be much to our likings.

The New York Times, by the way, is reporting these trends better than any other newspaper.


Some of the names on the confirmed buyout list at the L.A. Times, although the paper has not yet accepted them all, would represent a terrible loss for the paper and another confirmation of the consequences of having such an awful owner as the Tribune Co.

I'm particularly depressed by word that Frank Clifford, an outstanding environmental editor, plans to leave the Times, along with Shawn Hubler, Jean Guccione, Simon Li, J.A. Adande, Mike Kennedy, Iris Schneider and Lennie Laguire, the woman who first suggested that I write my consumer column. No paper can take such hits and be the same quality institution it has been before.

Also, it would be a shame to lose Jenifer Warren from the Sacramento bureau, when she has contributed such great stories about the crisis in California's prisons. I'm pleased, however, that Mark Arax has decided not to take the buyout.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Kevin Sack Rejoins The New York Times

An announcement at the New York Times says that two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Kevin Sack is rejoining that newspaper to cover health care. He is the latest of several eminent L.A. Times writers and editors to leave the paper in recent months.

The lengthening list includes Alissa Rubin, now in Baghdad for the NYT, John Balzar, Lee Hotz, now with the Wall Street Journal, Vernon Loeb, now with the Washington Post, and, I believe, Solomon Moore, soon to be if he is not already with the New York Times..

And why should these journalists not leave as long as Tribune Co. CEO Dennis FitzSimons, is still in charge of tearing the L.A. Times to pieces? It is FitzSimons who dictated the latest round of cost cuts, a new buyout and likely layoffs, and it is Chicago toadies David Hiller and James O'Shea who rushed to catch up with him in the skulduggery.

I'd hoped that the new Tribune owner, Sam Zell, would intervene to stop this process and start investing in the Tribune newspapers again. FitzSimons, Heller and O'Shea hopefully would be dragged to the low levels they deserve. So far, however Zell hasn't acted, although he and an associate just went on the Tribune board, and they might act still.

Sack, like the late great Homer Bigart, is one of those rare newsmen who have won Pulitzers with different two papers.

It was Dean Baquet who brought him to the Times. He had worked with him and knew his talents, and Sack quickly became one of many Pulitzer winners in the John Carroll-Dean Baquet era, scoring with Alan Miller in a series on a flawed U.S. military plane that cost many lives.

But the Pulitzers did the L;A Times little if any good, because they provoked FitzSimons and his motley crew of Chicago executives only to go into fits of jealous rage. They hated the thought of the L.A. Times outshining the Chicago Tribune, and, sick with all the lousy Chicago food they were eating, they struck back with many steps to reduce the Times in size and quality. They failed to keep up circulation. Eventually, Carroll took early retirement in protest and Baquet was forced out after he defied the cost cutting orders.

These are sad times at the L.A. Times, although the paper continues to be good in many areas. Still, the dibs and drabs, the losses mount up and the paper gradually sinks. Kevin Sack is merely the latest loss. There will certainly be others.


Pakistan continues to unravel, with a general strike following riots in Karachi that cost more than 40 lives over the weekend, and the murder of a U.S. soldier by a Pakistani soldier at a meeting on Pakistani territory near the Afghan border. The prospect, if Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf was ousted from power, could be the fall of the country's nuclear weapons into terrorist hands, confronting the U.S. and the rest of the world with a dire crisis.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

LAT Brush-fire Coverage Last Week Was Terrific

It is the driest rainfall season thus far in Los Angeles' recorded history, little more than three inches of rain since July 1, and in the last week alone two major brush-fires have struck Southern California, one in Los Angeles' huge Griffith Park, the other on Santa Catalina Island.

Both conflagrations, were it not for massive firefighting capabilities and implementation, easily could have destroyed many homes. On Catalina, all of the city of Avalon, one of the metropolitan area's favorite destinations, could have been lost.

But thanks to successful organization, and particularly in Catalina's case, a massive transport of fire engines, aircraft and personnel to the scene from the Mainland, thanks to the military and several law enforcement agencies, only one home and a few commercial structures were lost.

If California seemed readier than ever to confront disaster, the Los Angeles Times was also ready. Its coverage of both fires was massive, quick and constituted a major success. Although television news did a great job too, the paper could take pride in the product it delivered its readers, and it was evident that the organization of the Times coverage was better than it had been in some disasters in the past.

The Times spot coverage the first day of the Northridge earthquake won a Pulitzer Prize, but it was probably not better than the newspaper displayed last week in reporting on the Griffith Park and Catalina fires. Of course, these two disasters were more focused on a rather narrow area. But the 1994 earthquake, while it occurred over a considerably wider area, took place very early in the morning, giving the Times staff all day to come up with its report. The fires, on the other hand, reached their zenith in nighttime hours where edition deadlines were much closer in time.

Another thing that has changed since the earthquake is that the Times Web site is now a major and ever bigger factor in the Times presentation of the news, with hundreds of thousands of readers coming on line to find out what is going on hour by hour. The Times staff must constantly be filing and updating to make the Web report timely.

Altogether, it requires superb organization on the news desks, fast editing as well as writing capacities. to get out a successful report, and the Times seems to have excelled in everything last week.

Individual writers, Ashraf Khalil, Paul Pringle, Megan Garvey, Seema Mehta and Susannah Rosenblatt, among them, were the stars of the coverage, but many others , including several photographers, and of course editors, contributed to it. Altogether, it was a splendid effort.


Time magazine's special issue on the world's 100 most influential people was a considerable success, I thought, with a harder-headed choice than Time has been making in its recent Person-of-the-Year issues. This was an eclectic list and some of the individual short essays were excellent. About the only effort that fell short was Joel Stein's alternative list on the last page. This could have been more detailed and provocative. Time's leading article in the "Leaders & Revolutionaries" section, interestingly enough, was Sen. Barack Obama, whose 2008 presidential campaign has quickly been developing stature. Time, however, like many of the Eastern press, skipped listing one of the most important Eastern and Republican candidates for President, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who often gets short shrift from the media, but may end up President. Time included Osama bin Laden in its list of most influential revolutionaries, although, always politically correct, its essay on him was shorter and less interesting than many others. It's a shame. They could have invited him to their gala New York dinner honoring the 100, and his host could have been Michael Duffy, the Time writer who urged that we throw in the towel to him, and who was my "mistaken journalist of the year."


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Macy's Ads May Be Affecting LAT News Coverage

A question of journalistic integrity arose at the L.A. Times Friday in its failure to report explicitly on declines of Macy's revenues from April sales. The omission in a Business section story by Leslie Earnest and Ronald D. White took place in the same week that Macy's has been allowed to annoy Times readers by its wrap-around ads in the metro (California), sports and home sections.

On a day that the L.A. Times and the New York Times both had lengthy Business section stories on a decline in department store revenues across the country, the New York Times discusses the 2.2% revenue decline in Macy's stores explicitly, while the L.A. Times story does not.

The Times does show in a graph a 2.2% loss for Macy's under the company's "Federated" overall parent name. But the Earnest-White story fails to mention that Macy's is Federated, and many readers may miss that, while the New York Times does explain this, and its story, by Jeremy W. Peters and Michael Barbaro, says it is Macy's that being talked about, and it quotes a Macy's official.

Specifically, the New York Times story states, ""The parent company of Macy's Federated Department Stores, has attributed its sales slowdown over the last year to the outlets of the former May Department Stores, which it acquired in 2005. Today, it said performance was weak across its entire chain. Sales fell 2.2%.

"April sales were disappointing across the country in both news and legacy Macy's stores," said Terry J. Lundgren, the chief executive of Federated, who said that a May promotion event was moved up April "but did not expect the results we expected."

Again, there is no explicit mention of Macy's in the L.A. Times story, and I'm suspicious of the emission.

We can't count on the squalid Tribune Co., or its toadies in Los Angeles, publisher David Hiller and editor James O'Shea, to provide honest, straightforward coverage in the Tribune-owned L.A. Times. I think it highly likely that Earnest and White were censored due to the "friendly" relationship Macy's has established with Times executives through its wrap-around ads.

Again, I renew my call for a boycott of all Macy's stores, until they drop these ads, which are denigrating the paper, and begin receiving fair Business coverage in the Times.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Giuliani Wise In Sticking To Position On Abortion

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is setting a high standard by sticking to his position for allowing abortions, some gun control and some gay rights in his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination. It is one of several reasons why I think his campaign must be taken seriously. He respects the American voter enough to believe he or she can make distinctions and realize they may not agree with a candidate on every issue, but still come to the conclusions he is worth voting for.

Speaking to a group of Houston Baptists, Giuliani was succinct about his position on abortion:

"In a country like ours, where people of good faith, people who are equally decent and equally moral and equally religious, where they come to different conclusions about this, about something so very, very personal, I think you have to respect their viewpoint. I would grant women the right to make that choice."

Giuliani also said,"I should honest tell you what I believe. I should honestly tell you the things I can evolve on, and the things that I can't, and then you should decide."

This is not only an admirable position, but, also, I think, a practical one. I don't share the conventional wisdom that Republicans will never nominate a moderate like Giuliani is on these issues. Just like the newly-elected president of France, Nicholas Sarkozy, Giuliani has the courage of his own convictions.

By taking these positions now, also, the New Yorker positions himself well for the general election in the fall. He won't have to "move to the center" after being nominated.

Contrast this with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has slid to an anti-abortion viewpoint in his campaign, and who appears to be pandering to the views of conservatives he once profoundly and publicly disagreed with.

Giuliani, an Italian Catholic who has been married three times, and has even roomed with gays in the past, may not get the Pope's support in the forthcoming election. But we should remember, the Pope doesn't vote in American elections, and in this country we believe in separation of church and state.


I'm disappointed in reports that such Los Angeles Times staffers as Mark Arax, Robert Salladay, David Holley and Simon Li are considering taking the buyout. All are valuable members of the Times family. This is part of what I don't like about the repeated buyouts that have afflicted the Times. The paper would be diminished if each of these people leave.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

War Weariness Grows In Washington, Afghanistan

Just in the last 24 hours, there have been strong indications that weariness with the never ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is growing in Washington, with blunt talk by 11 Republican Congressional moderates to President Bush at a White House meeting, and a call by the upper house of the Afghanistan parliament for a ceasefire in that country and negotiations with the Taliban.

It's not really that new. Doyle McManus had an article not long ago in the L.A. Times saying that if progress in the Iraq war is not discernible by September, Republican support for the President's position will sharply erode.

As the 2008 elections approach, it is plain that the Republicans in Congress are fearful of a debacle at the polls next year, much worse than in 2006, when the Republicans lost control of Congress, unless there is a change in the Iraq situation far beyond the glimmerings of light seen recently in Anbar province.

The talk yesterday at the White House put the President on notice that he has diminishing time to show a turn in Iraq, or more Republicans in Congress, beyond the minuscule member so far, will start drifting to the anti-war Democrats. It is not inconceivable, as McManus and Times Washington columnist Ron Brownstein have been reporting, that a veto-proof majority could be assembled in Congress against the President's position of carrying on the war, at least on the same basis it is now.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, where the war is in its sixth year of direct American involvement, the government of Hamid Karzai is showing signs of wanting to see whether the Taliban could not be brought to some settlement. Karzai is not naive, and probably his condition would be that in exchange for Taliban participation in the government, there would have to be a guarantee against terror being exported from Afghanistan, as it was on Sept. 11, 2001.

But already, with more repressive laws restricting a free press, and mounting protests against American and NATO bombing efforts that often kill civilians, it is evident that the Afghan situation is in flux, and that efforts for sharp reform in Islamic traditions in that country have not been successful.

There could be some war weariness as well on the Taliban side. Some of the same trends that have developed in Anbar province, where tribes have taken on Al Qaeda, can possibly be seen in the Waziristan border sections of Pakistan, where tribes have grown tired of Arab and other foreign fighters affiliated with Al Qaeda. In the Pakistan border areas, hundreds of Uzbek and other foreign terrorists have been killed in clashes with these tribes in recent weeks, and the Pakistani army has become more active in abetting such tribal efforts.

However, these developments are countered by increasing unrest in Pakistan, where the government of the military dictator Pervez Musharaff is under great pressure, not only from the Taliban but from forces determined to restore democracy to Pakistan. In an article in the Washington Post, Ahmed Rashid, the Pakistani journalist who wrote the first book on the Taliban before the Sept. 11
terror attacks, now writes he thinks Musharaff's rule is coming to an end. On Saturday, May 12, it was reported that 33 persons had been killed in sweeping riots in Karachi centering around an aborted visit to the city of a chief justice ousted by Musharaff.

Any fall of the government in Pakistan could easily jeopardize peace over a much larger area, since Pakistan is a nuclear state and just who might come to control the nuclear weapons is uncertain. It could be a nightmare for the West, at a time when Washington has grown impatient with Musharaff for failing to do more against the Taliban, and the British are charging that terrorists in Britain are being trained in Pakistan.

The situation, clearly, is fluid. Certainly if Al Qaeda perceives that America is just about fed up with the war, it will increase suicide bombings and other attacks in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq in hopes of chasing U.S. forces and turning the situation throughout the Middle East to its advantage. If the Taliban is growing war weary, there is no sign Al Qaeda is. And if Pakistan becomes more fully embroiled in conflict, it may well be not peace but war that gains the upper hand in the whole region.

Vice President Cheney's visit to the Middle East this week, including to Iraq, may represent a recognition by the Bush Administration that forces pushing it to change Iraq war policy have grown more powerful. That is why, Cheney has apparently been warning the feeble and highly sectarian government of Nouri Al-Maliki, that time is running out for it to take steps to abandon the sectarianism. However, the Cheney warnings may not be effective, and they may come too late. Maliki seems more interested in Shia dominance in Iraq than progress against the Al Qaeda insurgency or steps to placate less militant Sunnis.


The L.A. Times again succumbs to excessive and distasteful advertising this morning, allowing the Macy's inferior department stores to buy wrap around pages obscuring the Times' metro and sports sections. Most readers will, I believe, join me in throwing away these wrap-arounds as a first step toward reading the paper. But that is not enough. Macy's and any other advertiser that buys wrap arounds should be boycotted, and Times publisher David Hiller should be informed that such stupidity will not help the paper's reputation, or its circulation.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

CBS Web Should Screen, Not Kill, Obama E-Mails

The New York Times reported yesterday that the CBS News Web Site, alarmed at the number of bigoted comments it has been getting on presidential candidate Barack Obama, has decided to block all comments coming from its e-mailers on the Illinois senator.

This could well be unfair to Obama, since other candidates will be the subject of comments, will be getting the publicity and will be given a leg up on financial contributions. If he does not appear, many people may falsely assume he is not a major candidate.

CBS News and other Web sites have an obligation, it seems to me, to screen out all clearly bigoted or improper comments on any subject for Web sites. The New York Times routinely does this. Anyone can submit a comment, but ones that are clearly inappropriate or overly vitriolic do not appear. The New York Times has hired a number of screeners for this purpose.

Freedom of speech does not give one the right to yell fire in a crowded theatre, and Obama and other candidates have a right not to be subjected to bigoted remarks. A distinction must be drawn between them and partisan remarks, which are fine in a free society.

Obama, as the only black candidate to ever run for the presidency with a considerable chance to be elected, must be the subject of special protection against bigots, assassins and their ilk. In this vein, it was entirely proper for the Secret Service to extend protection to him, as it did this past week, earlier than it has to most candidates. (Although it is worth noting that Sen. Hillary Clinton, another Democratic candidate, already has Secret Service protection as the wife of a former President).

Had Sen. Robert Kennedy had such protection at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in June of 1968, he might have been protected from assassination by one of the first Palestinian terrorists, Sirhan Sirhan.

CBS, in banning all comments on Obama, would seem to be over reacting in the aftermath of the Don Imus firing. Now, the network is being sued by Imus on the grounds that his contract permitted him to make "controversial" remarks. Regardless of Imus, however, CBS's obligation to treat all candidates fairly compels them to revise its policy on Obama comments as I've suggested above.


Palestinian terrorists are now demanding that the British government release Islamic terrorists imprisoned in Britain in exchange for the release of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston, who was kidnapped in Gaza two months ago. Such tactics are engendered by the foolish recent Afghan release of five Taliban prisoners in exchange for an Italian reporter. When such exchanges are made, it simply encourages more kidnappings.

It is important to give the Palestinians a simple message: Johnston and Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, another kidnap victim, alive, or Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader, dead. That is the policy President Theodore Roosevelt followed in the early years of the 20th Century, when a Berber chief, Rasuli, kidnapped a U.S. businessman, Ion Perdicaris. in Morocco. "Perdicaris alive or Rasuli dead," Roosevelt declared, and he sent a fleet to Morocco to see to it. He got Perdicaris alive.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Baquet Ban On Attending Press Dinner Excessive

New York Times Washington Bureau Chief Dean Baquet's decision to tell his reporters not to attend the annual White House correspondents' dinner is in my view excessive and counterproductive.

Baquet explained to the New York Observer, "I think we need to start sending a signal to the public that journalists and the people we cover have a polite but adversarial relationship."

I fear the only message he is sending is that the press won't enter into friendly relationships with anyone, and this is no way to report the news.

The fact is that the relationship between the news media and the politicians and government officials they cover in Washington in particular, but elsewhere in the country as well, has become poisonous. The press is not trusted and often for good reason. And the press, in turn, doesn't know who to trust either.

In the recent Libby trial in Washington, there was extensive testimony taken about the multifaceted relationship between reporters and the people they cover. If these relations are not, to some extent, friendly, the quantity of the information forthcoming is reduced, and the degree to which reporters know they can trust what they are getting is minimized.

As a political reporter for the Los Angeles Times on campaigns ranging from the presidential to local, I had multiple friendly relationships with the politicians I covered. The result was that I think my reporting was usually fairly accurate. Often, in "insiders" stories, I was able to quote, without identifying sources, what was really going on in campaigns. Often, Democrats and Republicans criticized themselves, and told what was going on behind the scenes and these reports often ended up in my stories. It was far more revealing than quoting independent political experts who often don't know what they are talking about, as is often done today.

Among the stories that friendly relationships allowed me to report. was that Evelle Younger had run out of money in his race against Jerry Brown in 1978 , that Gerald Ford had decided to skip campaigning in California against Ronald Reagan in the 1976 primary, that Eugene McCarthy would not endorse Hubert Humphrey until the very end of the 1968 presidential race and then only very tepidly, that Jesse Unruh felt the campaign against Humphrey was lost on the first night of the Chicago convention, etc. etc. etc.

Cooperation and tips from City Council President John Ferraro in the drive to secure the 1984 Olympics enabled me to report news that blocked what would have been an unsatisfactory deal between Mayor Tom Bradley and the International Olympic Committee at the
Athens meeting of the IOC in 1978, and the result was Los Angeles eventually got a much better deal that protected the taxpayers from undue expenses for the games. Ferraro once remarked of me, "Reich would report adversely on his own grandmother, if it meant getting a story." This was true. He knew me well.

My friendships during my Olympic assignment extended to Communist bloc officials from Romania and East Germany. This allowed me to accurately report that efforts to prevent a Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles Games had been stymied, when both L.A. Olympic president Peter Ueberroth and IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch were saying falsely they believed the Soviets would come to the Games. They didn't.

Since the IOC and the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee were both closed organizations whose meetings were very largely secret, much of the reporting I did was from hotel bars, late at night, particularly in the bar of the Lausanne Palace Hotel, taking advantage of the nine hour time difference between Los Angeles and Lausanne, Switzerland. When, during brief periods, IOC officials including the President, Lord Killanin, would not talk to me, I got reporters who were stooges of the IOC to place my questions, a tactic which turned out to be quite successful. I always stayed in the hotels the IOC stayed in, and attended every IOC party I could, even often taking my young daughter with me.

In politics too I never passed up a chance to dine with, fly with and socialize with those I covered. That enabled me to do my job. I sometimes flew to Los Angeles from Sacramento on his airplane with Gov. Ronald Reagan. It was a free ride, but it also was a fount of news, and it didn't compromise me in the least. The Times would have paid for my transit if I hadn't flown with the governor, but in these cases, I was sitting with the governor and was the recipient of many confidences. The Times readers benefitted.

There is no secret, I am an admirer of Dean Baquet. After he defied the squalid Tribune Co. cost cutters last year and was ousted for his stand as editor of the Los Angeles Times, I picked him as my "journalist of the year."

But in trying to cut off social exchanges between his personnel and the Washington scene, in boycotting the White House Correspondents dinner, Baquet is making a mistake. He is cutting off his nose to spite his face, and it is necessary for more than one friend to tell him so.


I certainly agree with the L.A. Times editorial this morning saying the Police Commission should wait to support William Bratton for another five-year term as Police Chief until a complete investigation is completed on the police riot last week in MacArthur Park. Bratton, who was not there, has reacted well to what happened, apologizing for it and calling it the worst police action he had confronted in his 37-year career. Still, as the Times says, what happened in the park raised the question just how profound the changes Bratton claimed to have made in the culture of LAPD with his policies of transparentcy and accountability have actually been.