Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Jet Boat Trip Up Oregon's Rogue River Is Superb

Written from Gold Beach, Ore.--

This was my first time in this town at the mouth of the Rogue River on the Oregon coast since my son, one memorable spring day several years ago, caught an 18-pound salmon near the Pacific on the Rogue.

But today's experience -- a 104-mile trip up the river with Mail Boat's jet boats -- was memorable too.

Don't take this trip, if you're not willing to get wet. But we had many older people on today's excursion, and everyone seemed to enjoy the countless spins and splashes caused not so much by the rapids, as by two adept pilots who, it seemed, could spray any section of the boat they wished to simply by braking suddenly, or turning sharply.

The seven-and-a-half hour trip to the first rapid the jet boats could not get through, cost $74, which the company charged to my credit card when I made my reservation two weeks ahead. Service was smiling. An excellent buffet lunch enroute cost an additional $12.

There are a lot of boat trips, frankly, that are not worth the money. This one was.

The river is extremely colorful, with fishermen frequently seen hip deep in the water, boaters of all kinds passing by, other jet boats, fine cabins, and, in the last 30 miles of the journey upstream, dozens of rafters who have come down wilder sections of the river further upstream, and have passed through spectacular rapids. The kids and I once took one of these raft trips, but that's another story.

Today, we saw many kinds of birds, including blue herren, osprey and bald eagles, quite a few deer, some river turtles, some minx and at least one bear, possibly two. I say, possibly two, because I did not quite pick out the second one. The first, though, was obvious, eating some of the millions of black berries that grow in this idlyic region in July and August. Bears, of course, are not the only ones who can pick the berries free of charge. We saw no jumping sturgeon, though they have been seen on other days.

This was a marvelous trip for children, and there were many on the trip. I'd certainly hope to return when my grandchildren get a little older.

It was such a bright and sunny day that we were glad to get wet, because it was cooling, and we dried out quickly. How often did we get wet? Perhaps 30 times, particularly on the downward trip, when we thought erroneously the thrills were over, as the boat hit 55 mph. The pilot along this segment was a man named Dave. I hope you get him as your driver.

Gold Beach is about 30 miles north of the California line on the coastal highway. There are many spectacular turnouts along this rock-strewn coast.

The town itself is nondescript and not too impressive, but on the road that goes several miles along the north bank of the river, there are many fancy and not-so-fancy lodgings to suit any taste or pocketbook, including some RV camps. Particularly to be recommended is the Tu Tu Tun lodge, but I tried too late to get reservations. They are very popular, and also, not cheap.

This is a travelers paradise. Come and enjoy a great spot on the West Coast. And be sure to take the river trip, also offered by an outfit called Jerry's Jet Boats.


Monday, July 30, 2007

Two Former Critics Say Iraq Is Looking Up

Written from Ashland, Ore.--

Two respected observers of the Iraq scene, critics of the Bush Administration in the past, write in a New York Times Op Ed Page article this morning that the situation in Iraq is showing signs of improvement. They describe U.S. military commander Lt. Gen. David Petraeus as "superb," and contend that he deserves more time to fulfill a mission in which he is showing considerable skill.

The piece by Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, both of the Brookings Institution, says that after an eight-day visit to Iraq they do not see "victory" around the corner, but they do feel there is evidence the situation has been stabilized to some extent and that sustainable security may be at hand in most areas, including the north, Anbar and parts of Baghdad.

Also, they write that morale of U.S. troops appears, in contrast with some past months, to be high.

Such a view will not please New York Times Sunday columnist Frank Rich, who just this week kept up his dirge of criticism of the Bush Administration, extending it to Gen. Petraeus, who he charged is becoming too important. (Obviously, a significant success in Iraq would make Petraeus a hero in many quarters, just as Eisenhower and Grant became in past wars).

But if Petraeus is having some success, all Americans should be happy. There is, after all, little question that it would be better for us, not to mention the entire Middle East, if we were to prevail in Iraq, not lose, as some in Congress seem at times to wish. Petraeus told ABC News today, however, that if we are to prevail, the U.S. troop presence must be extended to 2009, past the end of Mr. Bush's term in office.

O'Hanlon and Pollack report, as have others in recent weeks, that Al-Qaeda seems now to have thoroughly disgusted many Iraqis with its brutal killings, suicide bombings and attempt to institute a rigid kind of Muslim religious control over what was, even under Saddam Hussein, a largely secularized country.

There do indeed also seem some signs, not in this column, but elsewhere that the extremists are beginning to draw the criticism and disdain of many in the Middle East and beyond.

It has not only been the Pope who has deplored, for example, the Taliban's kidnapping and threat to kill 22 South Korean hostages, including 18 women, in Afghanistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai described the kidnapping and threats as unIslamic in a very blunt statement pointing out that killing innocent and women children is not in accord with historic precepts of Islam.

The Taliban has now several times, after killing one hostage, extended its deadline. There is little evidence, meanwhile, that the Afghan government is willing to repeat the error it made back in March, when it traded five Taliban captives for one Italian journalist who had been kidnapped.

In a New York Times essay Sunday in the newspaper's Book Review, by Samantha Powers of the Kennedy School at Harvard examining the War on Terror, and several recent books about it, Powers chastised Bush for mistakes and hyping certain aspects of the terrorist threat, but she also said, notably:

"The challenge now is to accept that just because George W. Bush hyped the threat does not mean the threat should be played down...If the United States is to reduce the terrorist threat (diminishing both the probability of attack and the likely scale of harm) the next President must do a far better job of improving the security of civilians abroad, discerning and exploiting fissures among our enemies, persuading our allies to share the burdens of tackling terrorism and strengthening ou capacity to withstand attacks at home."

Yes, Powers is still critical of Mr. Bush. But at least she is calling for dialogue in this country as to how we can unite against the enemies we face, and do a better job at prevailing.

This is a welcome attitude in a newspaper that has seemed terribly shrill at late, often wishing the President positive ill.


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Moliere Play Tartuffe Inspires Ashland Festival

Written from Ashland, Ore.--

Moliere's great comedy Tartuffe opened to standing ovations here this past week, and will be the spark of the last three months of the 11-play Shakespearean and non-Shakespearian festival in this town just over the Siskiyou summit from Northern California.

This has been another triumphal year for the festival, founded in 1935, and now selling 390,000 tickets a year -- the largest regional theatre in America.

Not many theatre companies could bring off the elaborate Tartuffe, a play about an aristocratic French family bamboozled -- until his final comeuppance -- by an unscrupulous priest. But, fortified by a new translation into colloquial American English, as distinguished from British English, the acting company had its audiences in continuing uproarious laughter this week.

As usual, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival is putting on four Shakespearian plays and seven others this year. The plays appear in three separate theatres, the largest of which is the outdoor Elizabethan, which is only open from early June to early October. The indoor threatres put on plays from the end of February to the beginning of November.

Ashland tickets are not cheap, running up to $65 on weekends, with some discounts in the spring and fall, but the price of admission does not begin to cover the cost of producing the plays on elaborate sets and by a company that numbers 90. An elaborate membership structure gives playgoers early ordering rights, and there are many corporate sponsorships as well.

About 100 playgoers contribute $5,000 or more a year to the Festival. They get the earliest ordering rights, in the November before the year in which each season takes place, and there are special weekends for the highest contributors, although they are expected to pay their way to each of the events, such as the gala dinner that was held here Friday night.

The Festival is in another of its transitions, with Libby Appel, the artistic director for the last 11 years retiring, and her replacement, Bill Rauch, taking over. Rauch, who comes from his last job at UCLA, was selected as the new artistic director after an elaborate competition. He has already signaled that many changes are coming to the Festival, including a younger company. About a third of the present actors were told this past week that they will not be retained next year.

This year, the Shakespearian plays at Ashland are Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It, The Tempest and Taming of the Shrew. Other plays have been the Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole, Distracted (a comic drama about a hyper-active child, his parents, and the psychiatrists who advise them), Tracy's Tiger. a Tom Stoppard play, On The Razzle, an August Wilson play, Gem of the Ocean, Chekhov's play Cherry Orchard, as well as Tartuffe. Cherry Orchard and Rabbit Hole played only in the first months of the season, Tartuffe and Distracted are playing only in the final months. The transition takes place in July.

The 2008 playbill has already been announced. It includes Shakespeare's Othello and Midsummer Night's Dream, an East Indian drama, Clay Pit, and an August Wilson play, Fences.

Ashland, a town now approaching 20,000 in population, has many bed and breakfasts, as well as conventional motels and hotels, plus excellent restaurants and nearby attractions. Yesterday, my guests and I drove up to Crater Lake. There are Rogue River and Klamath River rafting trips, and the early Oregon pioneer town of Jacksonville is not far off. The Redwood Highway in Northern California is a little farther. Most playgoers come for several days, and see several plays. The theatres are dark on Mondays. Accompanying the plays are an elaborate series of lectures by members of the companies and others, plus music events.

I began coming to Ashland in 1984 and have been back every year since 1986, often bringing members of my family and guests. I've stayed in the same small bed and breakfast, the Cowslip's Belle, for 21 years. Many children over the age of six come to Ashland plays and in the spring and fall many high school and junior high school groups are brought in under a Festival education program offering seats at discounts. The Festival also has an outreach program which takes plays to schools. For members, there are also playgoing trips to London, Scotland, Ireland and other theatres, one trip each year.

Early reservations in Ashland are a good idea. Yesterday, at 5 p.m., a couple came to the door of the Cowslip's Belle, asking for rooms. It had nothing available, and a check of the town showed not a single vacancy in a bed and breakfast.

The weather in Ashland, about 2,500 feet high, can be hot in the summer, although it is dry, and wet and cold in the winter. Last February, when I came to the opening of the season, I was startled by a four-inch snowfall, but that is uncommon.

The phone number of the Ashland box office is 800-219-8161 or 541-482-4331.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

Common Sense And The Situation We Face

Written from Ashland, Ore.--

Sen. Barack Obama has many admirable traits. but he is lacking in experience and his statement in this week's Democratic presidential candidates' debate that he would meet with the leaders of Syria, Cuba and Venezuela as a means of fashioning a new U.S. foreign policy approach is a very strong indication he is not ready to become President.

It reminds me of when I was covering Eugene McCarthy's campaign for President for the L.A. Times back in 1968. When McCarthy refused to criticize the Soviet Union for its invasion of Czechoslovakia, crushing the reformist "Prague spring," in August of that year, it was proof positive that it would be dangerous to elect McCarthy to the presidency.

Anyone who thinks now that making an approach to Fidel Castro or his brother, Raul, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez or Syria's Bashar Assad is going to do any good is displaying dangerous naivete, and Hillary Clinton, who never shows that kind of foolishness, was correct when she assailed Obama for doing so. Her reaction was not Bush-Cheney lite, as Obama said so glibly. It was just common sense.

We are living in an exceedingly dangerous time, and it is almost unnerving to hear so many people say there is a cheap and easy way to get out of it.

The most serious part of the present crisis is the threat that nuclear weapons may fall into Muslim fundamentalist hands and the fact that if they did, they would be most likely to use them. We and our allies, including Britain, France, the rest of NATO, India and Israel, and even hopefully, Russia and China, must be willing to take any action necessary to prevent this from happening, lest we wake up one day and find that an American or British city. Moscow or Peking for that matter, has been atom bombed, or subject to a dirty bomb. Los Angeles, with all its nightclubs and the movie industry, so anathema to the Muslim crazies, could be the target.

Unfortunately, playing up to Chavez, the Castros or Assad affords us no means whatsoever to protect ourselves. In Assad's case, this year House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and assorted other emissaries "reached out" to him, as they say, but the only result was a stepup in assassinations and other terrorist activity in Lebanon.

At the moment, the overall nuclear prospects are why the unrest in Pakistan is of such critical importance. Just this morning comes word that, somehow, the Muslim crazies have been permitted to come back to the Red Mosque in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, and are again clashing with regular Pakistani law enforcement authorities there. This, just two weeks after more than 100 lives were lost when the Pakistan army removed them and supposedly shut the pesthole down.

It is clear, as Time magazine said in last week's edition, that the regime of Pervez Musharraf "possibly" could collapse. But, as usual, the appeasers at Time did not draw the proper conclusions that follow from this. They failed in their article to examine what we might do to assure that whoever succeeded Musharraf in that event would keep the country's estimated 40 nuclear weapons out of Osama bin Laden's hands. It might take action by American special forces in the last extreme to seize Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and put it fully in our control.

When I was in College, I spent long hours in Dartmouth's Baker Library stacks reading the New York Times and Time magazine's issues for 1940 when the Nazis conquered France and were theatening to invade Britain. These publications had a different spirit then than they do today. They were firm in their support of the hardline Churchill government, determined to stop the Nazis, and the moves of the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt to help Britain do this.

Today, these same publications, and the Los Angeles Times as well, fall all over each other to figure out how we can withdraw our forces from Iraq, an act which I believe would lead in short order, to a terrorist takeover in the Middle East.

The weakness in the media reflects the inability of a large part of the Democratic party to come to grips with the situation that faces us.

Obviously, we want our system of demoractic freedoms to last and prosper in the world. That is going to have to entail an effective waging of the war we are currently engaged in. It cannot mean running to see Chavez, the Castros and Assad, as Obama suggested this week.


Friday, July 27, 2007

NYTimes Business Skill, Tribune Ineptitude

Written from Ashland, Ore.--

There's no getting away from the fact that these are difficult times in the newspaper business. But some companies are doing better at coping with their problems than others.

This is clear from two articles in the New York Times Business section that ran yesterday. One showed how the managers of the New York Times Co. are quite skillful, while the managers of the Tribune Co. are the numbskulls that we have gotten to know so well.

Advertising is down in both companies, but despite this the New York Times Co. has managed to cut its debts substantially -- to $965 million at the end of the first quarter of the year, from $1.4 billion earlier -- while Tribune debt is soaring to such a point that the Times article on Tribune, this one taken from the Reuters press agency, speculates that the deal under which real estate magnate Sam Zell is supposed to take over Tribune may not actually go through.

The Reuters article quotes one analyst as saying the chances the Zell deal will be consummated are only 50-50, since a major gap of 21% has opened between the $34 stock price Zell is offering and the $28 level at which the stock has been selling. Generally, according to the article, such a gap should not exceed 5%, and the fact Tribune stock has fallen sharply since Zell began to climb onboard means that shareholders doubt the deal will go through.

As at Tribune, both revenue and overall returns slipped at the New York Times in the last reporting period, but the slip was larger at Tribune.

And why not, since one of the least skillful businessmen in the country, Dennis FitzSimons, is the CEO of Tribune, and he steps from one mud puddle into the next.

There are two sides, however, to the continued Tribune failures. They may not bode well for the Zell deal, for instance, but if it falls apart, then Tribune might well have to be liquidated and at that point the L.A. Times could well be sold to the Eli Broad-Ron Burkle group or to David Geffen, restoring the Times to local ownership and going far to assure its future.

The Chicago toadies, L.A. Times publisher David Hiller, and editor James O'Shea, would last about 48 hours, if that, under new ownership.

So, as the articles published in the NY Times show, Tribune continues to reel from one disaster to the next, but there might be a bright lining to the dark clouds that envelop the company and its staff.

Both of the newspaper companies are shedding certain assets this year. The New York Times Co. has sold nine television companies, and Tribune has announced plans to sell its ownership of the Chicago Cubs baseball team. But, of course, in the long run, the fortune of the companies depends on how their newspapers do. The New York Times is pressing for a goal of getting 10% of its income from its Web site, while the L.A. Times, despite all the talk from Hiller about improving its Web site, is lagging in this area too.

Meanwhile, I imagine, the New York Times managers continue to enhance their brain power by eating in New York's great restaurants, while the Tribune management continues to patronize the lousy restaurants of Chicago, a city known for putting potatoes in its enchiladas.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

New York Times Has Shameful Editorials On Iraq

Written from Ashland, Ore.--

I wonder if the goofy and finally ousted L.A. Times editorial page editors Michael Kinsley and Andres Martinez have migrated to the New York Times or are exerting undue influence there. What else can explain the New York Times editorials on the war in Iraq?

Surely, it cannot be the son of A.M. Rosenthal, Andrew Rosenthal, now editorial page editor of the Times, who is fully responsible for some of the recent shrill and defeatist editorials. A.M. Rosenthal, a fighter devoted to American interests, must be rolling over in his grave at what his son is running in his newspaper now.

I was particularly struck by the beginning of yesterday's lead editorial, "No Exit Strategy."

"The American people have only one question left about Iraq," the editorial started out. "What is President Bush's plan for a timely and responsible exit? That is the essential precondition for salvaging broader American interests in the Middle East and for waging a more effective fight against Al Qaeda in its base areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And it is exactly the question that Mr. Bush, his top generals and his diplomats so stubbornly and damagingly refuse to answer."

This has the same hectoring tone that the New York Times has been using these days toward the Bush Administration, and it is entirely wrongheaded. If followed, it would not only surrender Iraq to the enemy, but it would hand Al-Qaeda a victory that would redound to its benefit throughout the Middle East and Europe. It would paralyze any American determination to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where just yesterday they murdered an innocent South Korean hostage.

Do we want the terrorists to rule the Middle East? Do we want to hand victory to the suicide bombers, the kidnappers and the murderers, and give them carte blanche to spread their policies of religious dictatorship and enslavement of women elsewhere in the world? Because that surely will be the consequence were our forces to bug out of Iraq.

The New York Times has been joined by the Los Angeles Times and implicitly by Time magazine in calling for a U.S. phased withdrawal from the war. The Washington Post has a little more fortitude. But, generally, too much of the American press is ready to turn tail and run.

And this is just at a moment when our skillful generals, buttressed by the special forces we have sent to Iraq, the Green Berets, the Navy SEALS, Army rangers, the Marines, are turning the tide in large portions of Iraq, certainly in Anbar province, but in other provinces as well, and even have reduced the shameful killings in the city of Baghdad.

Whatever has happened to the dovish wimps in the press? Why don't more of them absorb the lessons of history and realize that great nations have fallen before because of their unwillingness to fight for their freedoms? Where is their devotion to American freedoms? Why don't they realize that freedom is never free, and fall in behind those volunteer soldiers who are fighting for it?

And how ironic it is that President Bush and Vice President Cheney, who avoided personal combat in the Vietnam war, have turned out now to have absorbed those lessons and be willing to fight? Yes, some will say, they are willing to fight with other Americans' blood, but this does not do them justice. They have put their personal reputations and their positions in history on the line, they have stubbornly pursued the national interest, without stinting. For that, they deserve, at this difficult time, our support and respect. We cannot overly focus on their youthful mistakes.

And it would be a good thing for the New York Times to cease thinking that it alone knows what's best for the country.


I was disappointed in Greg Kirkorian's recent article in the L.A. Times about the trial now beginning in Dallas of leaders of the Holy Land Foundation, a Muslim group accused of aiding the terrorist Hamas organization.

There are complicated issues in this trial, but Krikorian lost no opportunity to shade his article toward the Foundation's side, and against the U.S. government. It would be better to report things more straightforwardly, and reserve judgment until the verdict is in.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Some Polls Are More Reliable Than Others

Written from Ashland, Ore.--

There are always a large number of polls in the news, but a Pew poll whose results were published last week in the New York Times may have aroused more attention than others. The question was, were some of the results believable?

Couched in terms of negatives and positives, the poll asked questions as to whether voters might be more or less inclined to vote for someone depending on specific issues positions or their ethnicity.

So, for instance, the poll had a finding that 46% would be less inclined to vote for someone if he or she was a Muslim, 30% less inclined if he or she was a Mormon, 11% less inclined if she was a woman, but only 4% less inclined if he or she was black.

The troubling thing is that in polling, there is often such a thing as a right-or-wrong answer. If the survey asks a provocative question, it may assure a particular response. For instance, ask someone if they are biased, and a preponderant majority will say no. Maybe their real position is no, but it could also be that they realize a yes answer would stamp them as bigoted, and they don't want to be thought of as bigots, even if they are.

There are also such things as hard and soft answers. It may be that Mitt Romney confronts a real problem when 30% of those polled say they would be less inclined to vote for a Mormon. But how strongly do they feel that way? It could well be that it is a softly held position, and that Romney could overcome it by making the right approach during the campaign, just as John F. Kennedy overcame much anti-Catholic feeling by his presentation to Baptist ministers down in Texas and other campaigning in 1960.

I frankly am not inclined to believe that that 30% figure is solid.

On the other hand, it does not seem likely to me that the 11% who say they would be less inclined to vote for a woman, or 4% who say they would be less inclined to vote for a black person, fully reflect the difficulty either Sen. Hillary Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama would encounter in a campaign, due or their sex or race.

Also last week, there was a poll indicating that while Clinton was favored for the Presidency among women, she had an unfavorable rating among men. And even among women, married and older ones were less favorable to her than unmarried or younger ones.

It seems obvious at this stage that Clinton is controversial. She has to overcome male antipathy to a woman president and a feeling among some women that she should be doing something less serious than running for President. It strikes me that the 11% figure found in the Pew poll, reflects the fact that this is a right-or-wrong answer, and that the responses might not be completely valid. It also seems to me that Clinton might have more trouble winning over the 11% who say frankly they would be less inclined to vote for a woman than Romney would have winning over the 30% who say they would be less inclined to vote for a Mormon. In short, I believe the 11% is a harder number than the 30%.

The same kind of considerations apply with Obama and the 4% who say they would be less inclined to vote for a black. This number strikes me as very suspect. I'm sure that there are more than 4% who would be less inclined to vote for a black. Saying so does raise even more directly than the women and Mormon questions the spectre of identifying one self as a bigot, and many of those surveyed would certainly hold back from doing so.

Also, these figures are not regionalized. In the Deep South, for instance, it seems certain Obama's being African-American could prove more of a handicap with white voters and less of one with black voters. In most Southern states white conservatives predominate and the whole move to Republican in the South in recent decades strongly indicates that the South would vote solidly, in terms of electoral votes, against a black candidate, in this case Obama.

The Pew poll did not ask how many people would be less likely to vote for an Italian. I don't imagine that would be as strong a negative as Romney faces in being a Mormon, at least going in, but it still would affect some thinking about Rudolph Giuliani, an Italian-American.

In short, it seems to me the Pew poll is useful only if read somewhat interpretively, with awareness of the syndrome of the right and wrong question, and attention given as to how firm the sentiments expressed are.

Similar questions arise with all the polls that are constantly taken about the Iraq war. Virtually all these polls have been in agreement that the Iraq war is unpopular, that most Americans do not think the war is going well and that most favor at least a phased withdrawal of American forces. I do not quarrel with the validity of those numbers, or the finding that the Democratic position on the war in Congress finds more favor at the moment than the Republican.

But, also, it is noticeable that when a poll asked whether Americans favor an Al-Qaeda victory in Iraq, the results are very different. There is every indication that while most Americans advocate a withdrawal of American troops, most do not favor a consequence of an Al-Qaeda victory. Also, while most favor a withdrawal, quite a majority feel a withdrawal soon is not all that likely, raising the question of just how hard or soft their position is.

Recent attempts by such liberal writers and publications as Michael Duffy in Time magazine and the editorials in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times to discuss a withdrawal, at least partly in terms of the adverse consequences that might arise from it (i.e. genocide in Iraq, Al-Qaeda advances elsewhere in the Middle East, widening of the war outside Iraq and Afghanistan) reflect I think a sensitivity of these media to how adverse consequences might affect subsequent public opinion in the U.S. It could be that reaction in this country to terrorist advances growing out of an American retreat could, by 2008, fuel a Giuliani victory. Fear of such a reaction may explain why some Democrats in Congress have not pushed a withdrawal more than they have. They perceive that if a withdrawal is delayed until after 2008, there is not so much chance of such a reaction arising before the 2008 presidential vote.

The Iraq issue is a very complex ones. There too, the polls must be subject to rigorous interpretation, which may lead some policymakers in different directions than are commonly assumed.

"You can't live in a temperament of Gallup polls," Winston Churchill once declared. "You have to do what you think is right."

President Bush would obviously agree. But also he realizes that if the Iraq issue is couched in terms of Al-Qaeda prospects rather than an American troop withdrawal, the poll results are quite a bit different.

That is why the present argument whether it is Al-Qaeda we are fighting in Iraq or a whole collection of insurgencies is quite important. Mr. Bush's contention that it is primarily Al-Qaeda is resisted by the Democrats and the liberal newspapers, because they realize that if this comes to be the perception, withdrawal sentiment will diminish.

Already, there has been a slight bump upward toward Mr. Bush in the polls as to public feeling on Iraq, with about 42% supporting the President now as compared to 35% a few weeks ago. Also, 29% say the war is going well now, as compared to 23% a few weeks ago. It is clear that Bush has begun to make a little headway, arguing the consequences of an American defeat, but how hard or soft the new numbers are has yet to be seen.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Patrick Goldstein's Column Should Run In LAT

Written from Ashland, Ore--

It was with considerable astonishment that I read that Patrick Goldstein's column suggesting a way the L.Å. Times might earn enough money selling music on its Web site to compensate for not putting ads on Page 1, had been killed by management.

How dumb is the Tribune Co., and its Los Angeles designate, publisher David Hiller!

It is obvious Tribune thinks Page 1 ads are great. Anything to stem the revenue losses caused by its own downsizing and denigration of the newspaper. These Chicago idiots have screwed around with the newspaper for seven years, and now they are fixing to disgrace it with yet another cheap, sleazy, classless innovation, the Page 1 ads.

And when Goldstein and other dedicated reporters try to find a way out for them, try to find ways of maintaining the paper's reputation, their efforts are promptly thrown in the trash can.

Just yesterday, before leaving on the train for Oregon, I raised in this blog the question of containing crises, and how difficult this is to do. Of the crises mentioned yesterday, -- sub-prime mortgages, Pakistan, Cardinal Mahony, Tribune Co. and Times management -- it might actually be easiest to put the Times on a different course. All it takes is brains, a willingness to invest a little in innovations such as Goldstein suggests, and it would happen. The downturn would be reversed.

And Hiller won't even run Goldstein's column in the newspaper. How shameful! This guy is so wedded to the directives he gets from Chicago that he can't think out of the box at all.

It is depressing indeed that the Times has fallen into such a mess.


It's remarkable what one good step can accomplish. We see that in Libya today with the release of the Bulgarian nurses who had been accused of responsibility for causing AIDS in several hundred of their patients. It always was a ridiculous accusation, but the nurses were convicted and sentenced to death. It then took years of pressure from the rest of the world to get the sentences commuted and everyone returned to Bulgaria. Cecilia Sarkozy, the wife of the president of France deserves special credit for flying to Libya to reach the final agreement.

Finally the Libyan government has done the right thing, and now it is sure to reap the benefits in the form of wider recognition, aid of all kinds, and the beginnings of a return to good repute as a country. The effects of this correct, if belated, decision may reverse years of bad feeling.

It gives us some hope that other seemingly intractible problems can be solved. If so, the world would be a far more pleasant place.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Mortgages, Pakistan: Are These Crises Containable?

The editors of the L.A. Times still haven't moved the critical sub-prime mortgage crisis to Page 1, but at least in Sunday's newspaper, there was an excellent, and foreboding, analysis, of its consequences by Tom Petruno in the Business section. It was long overdue.

It raises a question, I want to write about today: When is a crisis containable, and if it is, how difficult will it be to contain? This arises not only now with the mortgage crisis, but also in the unfolding events in Pakistan, where Al Qaeda and the Taliban threaten to take over. And it even arises with Tribune Co. CEO Dennis FitzSimons? Is his incompetence containable, or will the whole Tribune Co. collapse on account of it?

Petruno's article does not mince words about the sub-prime mortgage crisis. He writes it is very serious and it shows signing of getting worse, reaching out to impact not only better-quality mortgages, but the stock market and the whole economy.

Under a headline that declares, "Wall Street can't cage its mortgage monster," Petruno observes that "Wall Street's standard line" has been that the problem is "manageable."

But, he goes on, this isn't so. "The line went, the trouble would be 'contained'--meaning it would be limited to the highest risk loans and wouldn't spread up to better-quality mortgages or to better-quality mortgage-backed bonds.

"Those assertions were all but blown away last week, after brokerage Bear Stearns Cos. on Tuesday disclosed that investors in two of its hedge funds that owned mortgage-backed securities had lost virtually all of their money."

Petruno's analysis of what has been happening is compelling. He notes that there is ample evidence that fraud is involved, that many people obtained mortgages based on incorrect evaluations of their properties and/or their incomes. In short, the lenders should have known that when the adjustible provisions of their loans kicked in, many would not be able to afford to make payments. So not only the mortgages, but those speculators who had invested in backing them would go belly-up.

I will give only Petruno's conclusion here: "The fire sale in mortgage securities has yet to begin. But it's coming. The implications for the rest of financial markets aren't clear, but when confidence is shaken in one market there usually is collateral damage. Once again, Wall Street's rocket scientists (its gurus) have created a monster they can no longer control."

Ben Bernanke, head of the Federal Reserve Board, warned last week that the total mortgage losses could hit $100 billion. Neither the L.A. Times nor the New York Times did much more than mention the warning in obscurely-played shorts.

But the bottom line of the crisis is that it may not be easily containable at all, that it may end up affecting all of us who own property or securities, and that, because it is so serious, it belongs on Page 1 of the newspapers, not back in the Business sections.

Now, let's go on to Pakistan. Its troubles have not been so much of a secret. Following the crushing of Islamic extremists at the Red Mosque in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, including the killing of its imam, both Al Qaeda and the Taliban have begun a series of suicide bombings that has already taken more than 150 lives. Regular Pakistani army units have, we are told, entered the border areas that these two terrorist organizations have come to control, but the Army's effectiveness and willingness to fight is very much in question. And, meanwhile, the dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf, who the United States has supported with billions of dollars in funds and arms, seems to be under tremendous pressure. All this is having an impact already on the conflict in neighboring Afghanistan, where U.S. and NATO forces are striving to contain a Taliban resurgence. The Taliban is the lowest example of the ills of humanity, and its threat today to kill 23 innocent South Korean hostages in Afghanistan by tomorrow night unless Taliban prisoners are released is just another example of its utter depravity.

In Pakistan, Musharraf may fall, and if he does, who will replace him? Will it be democratic, secular forces, or will it be the terrorists? And if the terrorists were to take over, would they also take over Pakistan's estimated 40 nuclear weapons? And if that were to happen, what would we, or India, or Israel do about it? All three countries have a tremendous stake in seeing to it that an atomic arsenal does not fall into the hands of the terrorists.

All this is not fanciful. There is a crisis already in Pakistan, and we have to ask, how big will it grow? Is it containable?

This is something the American and British news media is properly paying attention to. Last week, Bryan Williams on the NBC Nightly News had a comparatively long interview (for network news) with Richard Haass, the head of the Council on Foreign Relations. Like Petruno on the mortgage crisis, Haass did not mince words. He said that what is happening in Pakistan is more important at this moment than what is happening in Iraq, and he called it the number one foreign policy problem for the United States.

Finally, I mentioned Dennis FitzSimons, the Tribune Co. CEO. Nearly everything that FitzSimons has tried to do to stem the hemorrhaging of the resources of the Tribune Co. has only compounded the problem. Advertising is sliding, revenue is sliding, layoffs are increasing, debt is reaching exhorbitant levels, the editorial product at the 10 Tribune newspapers, including the L.A. Times, is deteriorating, readers have been leaving in droves.

Is this a containable crisis? I'm afraid that the answer is, not any more than the mortgage crisis or Pakistan?

We see in the case of Roman Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony in Los Angeles, defender of pedophile priests, how difficult it is to get rid of incompetents and worse. The L.A. Times, which has yet to call for Mahony's resignation, had an article in its Opinion section Sunday calling him the "teflon" cardinal and speculating he will be hard to remove. But in this case, there is an answer to the crisis: Mahony must step down.


Sunday, July 22, 2007

My Greatest Days Traveling In Italy

Of all the countries in Europe, my favorite travel destinations are France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Ireland, Denmark and Norway. But the costs of most of these trips certainly have gone sky high. Would you believe, when I hitchhiked to Italy with a Palm Springs friend in the spring of 1959, our combined budget was just $5 a day? That included $2 for food, $2 for accommodations and $1 for entertainment. And we stayed in hotels or pensiones, not hostels.

In November of 1970, on our honeymoon, our daily budget was $30 a day on a trip that took us to Florence, Rome, the Amalfi coast and an unforgettable week in Sicily.

Try such a trip today, and the budget would be ten times that, if not more. But then I traveled differently when I was young, and yet had just as good a time, probably better.

Here are some of my greatest days, traveling in Italy.

--On the night of Dec. 23, 1958, I left Paris alone on the Simplon Orient Express, going as far in a second class compartment overnight as Milan and arriving first thing in the morning. The great cathedral near the railway station was my first destination there, and also I went out to another part of town to see Leonardo da Vinci's painting, "The Last Supper," then very faded. It has since been restored. By late afternoon, I was on my way to Florence by train, arriving in the great city of art on Christmas Eve. I had no reservations, but there were plenty of people at the station hawking rooms in what the Italians call pensiones, which offered also two meals a day. As night fell I was very comfortable in a friendly and not expensive place right in the center of town.

--The next day, Christmas Day, was a revelation. What I remember best was Michelangelo's statue of David, the Cathedral, the Baptistery across the street from it and its doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti, the Uffizi gallery and the outdoor bronze by Benvenuto Cellini, the Perseus. These were the days before overwhelming security. You could go right up to the great works without impediments. It was a sunny but crisp day. Florence is a highlight of any trip. (Michelangelo once said of Ghiberti, "Woe to Lorenzo Ghiberti had he never carved the gates of San Giovanni. His children and grandchildren have sold and squandered all he left them. The gates are still in their places.")

--A few days later, I can't quite remember how it was arranged, but I attended a Papal audience at the Vatican with the man who had just been named Pope, John XXIII. We were fairly packed in, but I found myself standing right next to the actor Charlton Heston, there with his family. Actually, I remember better what Heston said than the Pope. Of course, he had played in the movie, "The Ten Commandments," and the Pope had not.

Rome is a huge city, about as hard to fathom as Los Angeles. One of my best memories there was a dinner Amelia and I went to on our honeymoon in 1970. We ordered "wild hare," which turned out actually to be imported Idaho jackrabbit. It was not all that great. but we were impressed. Lou Fleming was then the L.A. Times correspondent in Rome, and he recommended an excellent inexpensive hotel to us quite close to the Spanish Steps and the L.A. Times bureau. Another highlight of any trip to Rome is going out to the Appian Way, still looking much as it did in Roman times, and, of course, visiting the Colisseum. and Michelangelo's "Moses."

--In the spring of 1959, my friend, Prentiss de Jesus and I hitchhiked down from Austria into Venice. We couldn't afford any of the gondolas, but we did take water taxies. Venice, as always, was superb. And my friends, Bob and Marilyn Trounson, recently visited there for a week, and they say it still is. Prentiss and I also stopped in Verona one afternoon, where there were many American soldiers from a nearby base.

--My wife and later mother of our two children and I went to Italy late in the fall of 1970. We were in the Sicilian city of Palermo on Thanksgiving day. We celebrated it at a restaurant in which, in this crown city of the Mafia, we were the only couple. Every other table was occupied by a single man eating alone. Palermo has a remarkable cemetery, in which many of the dead are quite exposed, and it is a good place to enter Sicily.

We rented a car (above our $30 daily budget) and over the next week drove to Agrigento, with its Greek ruins, on the other side of the island, Syracusa, Mount Etna and Taormina. The entire week was splendid. Sicily is quite different from the rest of Italy, and, as is frequently the case, Etna was in mild eruption. We found a terrific hotel in Taormina, an historic resort, very reasonably priced. The weather at that time of year that far south was pleasant (although even Florence is often nice in the fall and winter). Sicily, over many centuries, was conquered by many foreign armies, but the saying there is that the conquerors all eventually became Sicilian.

The Italian portion of our honeymoon ended on the Amalfi Coast, south of Naples, which is much more settled than California's Route One, with many towns and villages clinging to the cliffs. There are hotels where you have to take an elevator 300 feet up to your room. One morning, I took off, left my wife in Amalfi, and climbed Mt. Vesuvius outside Naples. Only about 4,000 feet high, it's a wonder of any Italian trip, and, of course, Pompei, the city its eruption buried in 79 A.D., has now been escavated and lies below, a re-creation of antiquity.

In 1977, when I was just beginning my Olympic assignment for the L.A. Times, I went from sports federation meetings in Monte Carlo one night across the Italian border to the town of Ventimiglia, where the mayor's Olympic representative, Anton Calleia, and I ate a fabulous dinner of, I think, roast chicken. It demonstrated what is true in Italy, you can easily find a good meal almost every place. Another memory of this trip is driving from Monte Carlo to Lausanne, Switzerland, with Jim Hardy, then general manager of the L.A. Coliseum, and his wife. We went through Turin and crossed into Chamonix, the French ski resort.

In 1981, I was back in Italy, this time with my seven-year-old son. There were more Olympic meetings in Monte Carlo, and we took a train from there to Genoa, then on to Milan and the Swiss border. When we crossed from the splendor of the French Riviera into Italy, my son, David, exclaimed to me, unforgettably, "I can't understand it. In France, every house looks beautiful. Here, (in Italy), the houses all look terrible." It was a difference, in part, of paint, but Italy is less prosperous than France, and certainly Monte Carlo.

I look forward to returning to Italy, even under my somewhat unsteady walking conditions. I'd love to return to Florence, and to Capri, which I visited just briefly on my first trip 49 years ago. Even Naples may attract me, though anyone must watch out for the thieves there. It's said that a piece of luggage left in the Naples railroad station will disappear in two minutes, while a diamond ring left in a Helsinki parking lot will still be there the next day. Trains remain a good way to travel through most of Italy, but you need a car in Sicily. There are many places in Italy, of course, I haven't been. My daughter and her husband went to Bologna for a wedding a few years ago and they liked it very much, as well as the area around Lake Como.

My son went back to Italy as a student, spending considerable time on the Italian Riviera between Pisa and Genoa. One night, he and his companions took a train across a precipice to go to dinner, only to find when they emerged from the restaurant that the railroad workers had gone on strike. They had to walk back to their lodgings, a distance of 10 miles. This is the chaotic side of the great Italian Republic.



Saturday, July 21, 2007

N.Y. Times, Hillary Clinton Want Surrender Plan

The Democrats in Congress failed again this week to gain approval for a plan to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq, but their continuing series of failures haven't stopped the New York Times editorial page or Sen. Hillary Clinton from impatiently demanding that the Pentagon produce its own plan for doing just that.

The New York Times editorial pages have grown increasingly ill-tempered of late. They regularly express their dissatisfaction that President George W. Bush simply won't fold his tents, and that he stubbornly insists on continuing to fight the war. It sounds a great deal like the New York liberal newspapers during the Civil War who wanted President Lincoln to give up on the notion of defeating the South. They kept this up long after Sherman had taken Atlanta and the South was on the run.

The latest NYT blast comes this morning in an editorial whining about a curt Pentagon response to a letter from Mrs. Clinton to Defense Secretary Robert Gates asking whether the Pentagon has done any planning for a withdrawal from Iraq.

Responding on behalf of Gates, Eric Edelman, the under secretary of defense for policy, told Mrs. Clinton that "premature and public discussion of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies in Iraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia."

This is a no-brainer. It is clear Al Qaeda and its terrorist allies are waiting with bated breath for the Democrats in Congress to surrender Iraq to them. Then, they would take their Jihad elsewhere in reasonable expectation they would have their way.

Clinton denounced the Edelman letter, associating the appeasement advocate, Sen. John Kerry, in her protest. Kerry was the senator who denigrated American military forces in Iraq before the 2006 election. Although he claimed this was a "botched joke," he had to leave the campaign trail and subsequently decided wisely not to bid for President again in 2008. Clinton, if she wants to succeed with her own candidacy, probably ought to put some distance between herself and him.

Meanwhile, the New York Times editorial expressed outrage at Edelman's remark. "Using such an insulting tone with a senator would surely lead to dismissal by any president who respected the Constitutional system of government," the Times fulminated.

The NYT has forgotten the old and always appropriate words of Henry Adams, "You can't use tact with a Congressman; you have to take a stick and hit him in the snout."

But beyond that there is no sign, at least in this particular, that Mr. Bush doesn't respect the Constitutional system of government. The U.S. Constitution requires Congress to assemble a two-thirds majority to override a Presidential veto, and, on the matter of an Iraq withdrawal, no such majority has been assembled. In fact, in most of these tests, the Democrats have failed to even assemble the 60 votes for cloture.

To be fair, it's a given that the Pentagon has done some planning for an American withdrawal, or any other eventuality, in Iraq. The Defense Department has plans for many options, including, I suppose an American atomic attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. But that doesn't mean it would make sense to disclose all these plans. That, as Edelman said, would simply play into the hands of our adversaries.

What Mrs. Clinton is doing politically is clear: She is trying to demonstrate her anti-war credentials in time to parry the push by peaceniks in the Democratic party to deprive her of the party's presidential nomination.

Actually, what Mrs. Clinton would do in Iraq and the Middle East, if she were elected as President is not so clear. At one time or another, she has been on every side of the Iraq dispute, and as late as early this year she told the New York Times that she would opt for keeping some U.S. troops in Iraq.

What the New York Times is doing is clearer: It wants a surrender on any terms. It has long ago given up.


William Lobdell's overly long piece in the L.A. Times today about his religious experiences as a religion reporter was, it seemed to me, overwrought. The L.A. Times has had success with brilliant personal experience stories by Borzou Daragahi on his four years in Iraq, and Megan Stack, on her reporting in male-dominated Saudi Arabia. But it shouldn't push this too far. Lobdell's story could have been either left on the chopping block or relegated to an inside section.


CNN and the London Times this morning played as their lead story the unfolding drama of German and South Korean hostages in Afghanistan, where the Taliban has threatened to murder 25 innocent people unless German and South Korean forces are immediately withdrawn from that country. The Jerusalem Post played the story on Page 1 of its Web site, as did the New York Times. and the Washington Post. The latest was that the Taliban has claimed that the two Germans it holds were shot, but the Afghan government insists merely that one of them in Taliban hands has died of a heart attack, while the other is alive.

Meanwhile, the L.A. Times Web site did not have the story on the front page of its sparse Web site, and listed it, in fact, only 13th in a list of foreign news stories on a subsidiary page.

This demonstrates again the hollowness of assurances by the Chicago-toadying publisher of the LAT, David Hiller, that the Web site was going to be dramatically improved. No such improvement is evident yet, and day by day the Web site editors demonstrate their lack of good news sense.

In the meantime, the Taliban put out word that it will execute the 23 South Korean hostages it holds, unless Taliban prisoners held by the Afghan government are exchanged for them. The thugs clearly want to repeat the deal they made last March, when an Italian journalist was exchanged for five Taliban prisoners. But this was a mistake then, and it would be a mistake now. Giving up prisoners in exchange for hostages simply means there will be more hostage-taking.


Friday, July 20, 2007

McCain Drops Severely; Edwards, Thompson Less

That 2008 stands to be a volatile year as presidential elections go already seems clear, and already there have been a few losers or almost-losers.

The clearest example is the disintegration of the once-promising campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona). Despite the fact that he says, after his many funding and organizational reverses, that he will keep going is not very convincing. McCain is a stubborn and courageous man, but he probably will not persevere beyond the point that he begins to look ridiculous. That will not be beyond the Iowa and New Hampshire voting next January.

Also, less noticed, are the severe problems affecting the campaigns of former North Carolina Democratic Sen. John Edwards, and the nascent campaign of former Tennessee Republican Sen. Fred Thompson.

On the other hand, despite a New York Times poll this morning showing doubts about Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-New York) among older and married women, and men tending against her, her well-managed campaign seems to be faring well, and the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has also been faring well, although Obama's chances to actually be elected, or even be the Democratic nominee, may not be all that bright in the end.

I think it is too early to tell all that much about prospects for the Republican campaigns of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. One or the other, however, will probably end up as the Republican nominee.

No one else at this point is really in the contest.

Why has McCain seemingly failed?

I think it dates back to the South Carolina primary of the year 2000, when George W. Bush turned back the McCain juggernaut that came out of McCain's decisive victory in the New Hampshire primary. During the South Carolina primary, the Bush campaign went after McCain on social issues dear to the evangelical Christians who are so potent in that state and within the Republican party as a whole, and McCain handled the assault badly, losing his temper and making very unkind remarks about the evangelicals.

From that time forth, it was clear that if he were ever to appeal to the Republican mainstream, as distinct from independent voters and moderate Republicans, he was going to have to soften his independence considerably. His attempt to do this, to make himself palatable to those who had rejected him in 2000, made him seem somewhat phony. He lost his cachet with the independents and moderates, but he really did not gain among the evangelicals. All of this became obvious not very far into the campaigning for 2008.

Put this together with the fact that McCain has aged considerably in the last eight years. He is now 70 and looks it. On the evening of the President's State of the Union address, he was caught dozing on live television. People do remember the fading of Ronald Reagan in his second term, a man also in his 70s.

With all these circumstances, it is not surprising that McCain's fund raising turned out to be disappointing. After all, most big donors to American politics give out of a perception they are gaining advantage for themselves, as has certainly been the case with donors to President Bush, and the perception that someone is not a likely winner can ruin fund raising prospects. McCain also overspent what he did have, initially going for a very broad based national campaign that cost him money. Now, he is down to almost nothing in campaign funds.

It should also be noted that McCain, more than any other candidate, is identified with the Iraq war, which it goes without saying is deeply unpopular, although it is uncertain how exactly we might get out of it. If there were a severe terrorist attack on the U.S., public opinion on the war and our whole Middle East involvement might change, but for the time being all Republicans and particularly McCain are at a major disadvantage on account of it.

Leaving McCain, let's go to Edwards. Not only has he been unable to come up in the polls, but he has tended to sag a bit because of the perception, now widespread, that he is something of a dilettante, a trial lawyer and perhaps not all that sincere a populist. The $400 haircuts he has been reported to have had have not helped him, to say the least, because they fortify that impression.

Edwards has put quite an effort into Iowa, the first caucuses, but I still don't think he will be able to do all that well nationally. At this moment, he has not developed into the challenge to Hillary Clinton that some had expected. He appears these days to be something of a "pretty boy," and he has grown testy in some interviews. His campaign is in trouble, and he knows it.

Similarly, he hasn't announced yet, but already Thompson is being sorely tested by reports that as a lobbyist, after leaving the Senate in 2003, he worked for pro-abortion interests. This could be a severe setback in any attempt by him to appeal to the evangelical Republicans who so disdain McCain.

Right now, Giuliani and Romney would appear to be the major Republican candidates, although both have had their troubles. Romney is often criticized for changing some of his positions, such as on abortion, and Giuliani has been subject to adverse press reports for his three marriages and certain problems that have cropped up stemming from 9-11, specifically allegations that New York City firemen were not as well prepared as they should have been for the terror attacks, and that a Giuliani aide, Bernard Kerik, was affiliated with the mob. Also, questions have been raised about whether Giuliani took sufficient steps to protect workers at the destroyed World Trade Center site from environmental contaminants.

Giuliani, however, still is remembered by many Americans for his calm and efficient demeanor the day of the traumatic attacks, and he remains on top of the Republican field in the polls. Name identification may carry Giuliani a long way.

If Giuliani is the Republican nominee and Clinton is the Democratic, he may be well positioned to take advantage of Clinton's problems, that she is a woman at a time of crisis, that she is identified with a former President who is not free of controversy, and that she is a fairly controversial personality herself.

Still, it could be that by next year, such a powerful Democratic tide might be running that no one can overcome it. If I were putting odds on the race at this moment, I'd say that Clinton stood a good chance of being elected President. She is very perseverent, she is an indefatigiable campaigner, she is doing well in fundraising and she has both a good staff and a great adviser in her husband.

That leaves Obama. I said above that his ultimate chances might not be all that good, because he is black, he bears an Arabic middle name (Hussein), and he is bound to lose the South in any election.

On the other hand, there is no question but that Obama is the most inspirational candidate in the race. He has raised more money that any candidate, much of it through small, personal donations, he is by far the best speaker, and the fact of his race can be turned into an advantage in liberal circles and there might be a lot of liberals next year. It is definitely too early to count him out, because he may get a break in the early primaries, and prove to be unstoppable, should Clinton falter.

Halfway through this long pre-election year, that's how I think the presidential campaign stands. One should note, however, that we are in the middle of two wars, that the rest of the Middle East is boiling, that a terror attack could conceivably occur within the U.S., and that events could at some point come to be in the saddle. Even considering the unpopularity of Mr. Bush and the war, that could still redound to Giuliani's ultimate advantage.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Will Tribune Become Another Carter-Hawley-Hale?

Will the Tribune Co., with all its downsizing decisions, its inept management, the toady directors at its papers like the Los Angeles Times, and its reliance on employee stock ownership to pay off enormous debt, become another Carter-Hawley-Hale?

You'll remember that department store chain, which adopted an ESOP arrangement like Tribune is planning to do, only to see the company go straight down into the tank between 1984 and 1991. The employees lost everything, their stock value, their pensions, everything. Picking up the pieces was, guess who? Sam Zell.

Now, as the Tribune begins the disgraceful step of putting ads on Page 1 of all 10 of its hapless newspapers, that could happen again. Employees should be desperately concerned. In the Carter-Hawley-Hale situation, an incompetent management led by Philip Hawley allowed the company, which had been Southern California's largest retailer, to sink into bankruptcy. The Bank of America, which was also supposed to defend employee stockholder interests, turned out to be defending management's interests instead. Hawley was a member of the Bank of America board of directors.

I'm indebted to Kevin Roderick at LA Observed for displaying yesterday the observations of financial analyst Jim Cramer on The Street.com about the possibility of what Cramer calls "a huge catastrophe" for Tribune employees on the model of Carter-Hawley-Hale.

"You have to feel terrible about what's about to happen to Tribune employees," Cramer states. "I think they're about to lose everything. The whole $34 bid to take the company private depends on them, and on their Aug. 21 vote."

Comparing the situation to Carter-Hawley-Hale, Cramer states, "That was another ESOP takeover, this time with a retailer, done as a defense to takeover, and everybody got wiped out."

Cramer adds, "The astonishing decline in cash flow -- 27% down -- at the Los Angeles Times, just tells you this deal will be a huge catastrophe for a lot of people who can't afford it."

I'm not sure Cramer is right. A retired Times editor told me last week, for example, that he wonders whether Times publisher David Hiller, a Chicago toady referred to above, is giving true figures when he talks about advertising and revenue declines in a recent memo. The motive would obviously be to justify the ads on Page 1, the demise of TV Guide, the end to suburban news, the buyouts and layoffs, all the steps taken by the Tribune Co. to make the Times less than it's been.

But Cramer might be right. The fact is that Zell is buying de facto control of the Tribune with precious little of his own money, that his whole buy-in depends on the employee stock, and that so far, he has shown no clear sign that he has any idea about how to reverse the apparent decline in Tribune Co. fortunes and the quality of its newspapers and other properties. All this has many parallels with the Carter-Hawley-Hale situation, in which a "white knight" also appeared for a time as an agent of rescue, only to rake off the most profitable parts of the company, while allowing other parts to wither.

If he had an idea for rescuing Tribune, even though the deal is not yet complete, Zell should have used his clout already obtained, his seat on the board of directors, to rein in the CEO Dennis FitzSimons and his Los Angeles appointees, Hiller and editor James O'Shea, to prevent them from digging the Tribune hole deeper. I think they should have been dismissed.

Yet since Zell entered the picture, in a choice by the Chicago businessmen who dominate the Tribune board over would-be Los Angeles buyers who would have inspired confidence, either Eli Broad and Ron Burkle, or entertainment magnate David Geffen, the Tribune downward spiral -- if Hiller is to be believed -- on the figures, has only intensified.

I remember Hawley as a pleasant man who unquestionably was loyal to Southern California and believed in Los Angeles, even if he wasn't a competent businessman. By contrast, FitzSimons isn't terribly pleasant, and his animus toward all things Californian is manifest.

To put it mildly, things do not look good.

I wonder, in fact, if the district attorneys of Cook, Los Angeles and other counties where the Tribune papers and television stations operate should not initiate an inquiry to determine whether there have been illegalities in recent Tribune downsizing moves, and whether it would be appropriate to seek court injunctions to halt them.

There's no question that, if they fall flat on their faces, FitzSimons, Hiller, O'Shea, the whole Tribune executive, will get huge severance payments.

But, in case of failure, the employees will be left with nothing.


The situation in Pakistan continues to build toward a world crisis, with that nuclear-armed state now being subjected to the daily suicide bombings that have become a trademark of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The perpetrator: Muslim crazies from Taliban and Al-Qaeda. This has become a daily subject of front-page coverage in the major newspapers, here and in Europe. Today alone, there have been 47 killed.

When one looks back all the way to the 19th century, one realizes that no one has ever been able to establish firm control over the Pakistan-Afghanistan border regions. Can the faltering Musharraf regime?

No matter the difficulties the U.S. has with two wars already. If U.S. military intervention, perhaps with B-52s, is necessary to prevent the terrorists from taking over, and perhaps assuming control of a nuclear arsenal, then it must be undertaken. We really cannot afford to see secular elements in Pakistan lose out, and the country taken over.

Another aspect of the developing situation is that quite a few of the attacks have been directed at Chinese workers in Pakistan. Several have been killed. It isn't only Americans and Israelis who the Muslim fundamentalists hate. It's also Chinese, Russians, Europeans and even other Muslims, thousands of whom have been killed by the terrorists. It could be that help should be solicited from the Chinese in eliminating the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Pakistan. China, an emerging world power, is certainly solicitous of the interests of its citizens working abroad.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

As Air Travel Problems Mount, One Reporter Is Best

One reporter stands out above all others in covering the mounting problems of air travel in the U.S. and abroad. He is Joe Sharkey of the New York Times, whose column "On the Road" and other articles have set such a high standard that no one else is really competing with him.

By happenstance, Sharkey even has a connection to Brazil's tragic airline safety problems. He was on board the business jet that collided over the Amazon last Sept. 29 with a plane belonging to Gol airlines. No one on the corporate jet was hurt, but all 154 persons on board the Brazilian plane were killed. Up until last night, when at least 189 persons in the air and on the ground were killed at Sao Paulo Airport in the flaming crash of a TAM passenger plane, the Sept. 29 incident was the worst in Brazilian history.

There is no thought at present that U.S. air travel problems are as serious as Brazil's. The plane that crashed last night was landing on what a court had already held was too short a runway, in a rainstorm. The U.S. doesn't have such dire safety problems, but it has a crisis brewing this summer over airline delays, poor and sometimes even brutal treatment of passengers, and a fare structure which, in the absence of government regulation, no longer adequately serves either the airlines or the passengers.

Sharkey is superb at covering this, and the New York Times, to its credit, has given him the resources to do the job. Sharkey travels very frequently, and has become so well known as an air travel reporter that many stories fall into his lap, which happened in the past week. Distressed travelers call him, he doesn't have to call them.

By contrast, the L.A. Times has never had a reporter like Sharkey. The LAT covers airports and, of course, air crashes, but it scarcely covers air travel, and, under the penurious Tribune policies, it is providing less coverage, not more, in virtually all areas. Now that Eric Malnic has retired, even Times coverage of air crashes has languished.

The secret of Sharkey's reporting is that he pays tremendous attention to the problems of air travel as they affect the consumer. And he has an eye for the bizarre that brings these stories to life.

In Tuesday's New York Times, for example, he tells two stories which demonstrate just how bad things have gotten on the nation's airliners.

First, there is the account of what happened to Steven Khadavi, a passenger on a US Airways plane from La Guardia Airport in New York to Buffalo, Khadavi contacted Sharkey by text message from the plane to say, "I'm sitting on Flight 4385...We've been on the ground since 2:45 with no air. It's at least 110 degrees on the plane. There's a poor baby on the plane crying hysterically, likely from overheating."

When Sharkey checked this out, he found that dozens of airplanes had been piling up on the La Guardia tarmac, and that the US Airways Web site was saying Khadavi's flight had departed and was in the air when it wasn't.

When he first got Khadavi's message, Sharkey writes, "Strange, I thought. Here it is 2007, and I'm getting distress signals that sound as if they ought to be accompanied by the tapping of a telegraph key."

Sharkey was soon exchanging text messages with Khadavi. "Flight attendant says she can't talk to the pilot because he's in 'sterile flight,' a phrase I haven't heard before," Khadavi tapped out.

"Sterile flight?", Sharkey wrote in his column. "The plane clearly was stuck on a ramp, along with dozens of other flights. I wasn't sure how sterile it was, but it sure wasn't in flight."

At 5 p.m., Khadavi messaged Sharkey, "They just cancelled the flight." He said he'd been planning to take his family to
Quebec over the weekend by air, but now had decided to drive.

This was a microcosm of the stories of all of the people this summer who have been mistreated by airlines determined to make them wait on the tarmac for hours in hopes of either getting them in the air, usually in heated conditions and without food, or simply finding a gate for them, since all the gates are taken. Some passengers have been stuck in planes for eight hours or more. Khadavi did not have it as bad as the others. Still, his story was revealing.

The second story Sharkey told in his column yesterday was about the woman from Atlanta taken with her toddler off a Continental Express flight because her toddler kept saying, "Bye-bye plane!" as the aircraft taxied to the runway in Houston.

"As initially reported by WSB-TV in Atlanta," Sharkey writes, the flight attendant told the mother, 'You need to shut your baby up,' and suggested a dose of Benadryl, an allergy medicine that often causes drowsiness.

"The mother informed the flight attendant that she was not going to drug her child to prevent his saying 'Bye-bye plane.' The flight attendant walked up to the cockpit to report that the mother had threatened her. The plane turned back. Mother and child were removed.

"The other passengers backed up the mother's story," Sharkey writes. "Continental Express said it was investigating."

Only Sharkey tells such stories so well. Most other newspapers don't even have people assigned to them. At the L.A. Times, publisher David Hiller is far more concerned with groveling to any cost-cutting directives he gets from his Chicago bosses, than he is at improving Times consumer coverage.

But the larger point is that the airlines have been cutting back services to such a degree that it is now often a miserable experience to fly. My m0st recent flights on United Airlines and American Airlines were so terrible that I told my travel agent never to put me on either of those airlines again. I now fly across the country on Southwest, which is marginally better, and in California, since I'm retired and have the time, I take the train.

I believe we ought to go back to government-regulated fares, in a move to stem the cutthroat competition that is bringing the air service crisis to a boil. Then, fares might be set at a realistic level.

Am I advocating higher fares? I certainly am, if it brings back a modicum of service, meals on trans-continental flights and so forth. When I was a Freshman at Dartmouth 50 years ago, the fares to the Coast were about what they are today, and I'm not talking dollars adjusted for inflation, I'm talking just plain dollars. Fifty years without an increase has not caused a satisfactory situation, either for the airlines or the passengers.


On other transportation items in the news, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has gotten his comeuppance from the New York Legislature on his proposal to institute "congestion pricing" in Manhattan, charging people who drive in or out $8 a day. Approval was required in the Legislature, and Bloomberg did not get it. Thank goodness!

Also, Assemblyman Mike Feuer, in an Op Ed Page piece in the L.A. Times has assailed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for diverting money away from transportation bonds approved by the voters last year. The governor's action to use the money for something else substantially reduces construction of much-needed rail transit in the state. Feuer deserves high marks for pointing out Schwarzenegger's shortcomings.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

LAT, NYT Timid On Both Mahony And Iraq

The weaknesses of both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times are evident this morning in their failures to call editorially for the resignation of Roman Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony in the wake of the $660 million settlement the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has entered into with 508 victims of pedophile priests.

Since Mahony stonewalled the justice system for four years and only yielded when it became evident that he would have to testify in open court as to his derelictions in failing to deal with the pedophiles, of course, he should resign. The Archdiocese cannot move on, justice will not be perceived as having been done, until he does.

But neither paper can summon up the courage to call for it this morning. No wonder, both papers' circulation is sliding. The L.A. Times has plenty of news coverage, and there is a moderately good Steve Lopez column, which clearly assigns Mahony culpability, but stops just short of calling for his resignation. There is a failure here to reach the inevitable conclusion: For the good of the Archdiocese and the honor of the Catholic Church, Mahony must go.

We see the same kind of failures with the unfolding debate on the Iraq war. Neither paper has realistically tried to speak about the consequences should the United States withdraw its military forces from Iraq. Both papers have followed those in the Democratic party who call for what would be tantamount to a surrender in Iraq, such as the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, who is willing to sell out American interests for transitory political advantage. Both papers are so blinded by their dislike of President George W. Bush that they cannot give him credit at all for trying to follow America's best interests as he understands them.

The New York Times in particular has been pursuing the foolhardy argument, incidentally, that Al-Qaeda is not the principal enemy in Iraq. This is similar to the contention of so many liberal intellectuals during the Vietnam war that there were serious distinctions between the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong in the Vietnam situation, and that these could somehow be exploited by us if only we were more understanding of Viet Cong aspirations. In fact, as soon as the U.S. gave up in Vietnam, the North Vietnamese came marching into Saigon, and it became manifest that there was absolutely no Viet Cong independent of the North Vietnamese. On the very first day of their control, the name of Saigon was changed to Ho Chi Minh City.

For the New York Times and others to assert that Al Qaeda in Iraq is not fundamentally the same organization as the Al Qaeda now based in the northwestern border districts of Pakistan is the height of folly. (Also adhering to this argument is the dovish Time magazine columnist, Joe Klein, always free with accusations that Mr. Bush is lying to the American people about the nature of the insurgency in Iraq).

But not withstanding these fulminations, it should be absolutely clear to anyone who really thinks about it that an American withdrawal from Iraq would be perceived throughout the world as a victory for Al Qaeda, and that this would have major adverse effects on the whole Western position in the Middle East, and very possibly open Europe and America to new Al Qaeda attacks.

A National Intelligence Estimate out this morning concludes there is indeed such a danger.

"We assess that Al-Qaeda will continue to enhance its capabilities to attack the Homeland (the U.S.) through its cooperation with regional terrorist groups," the Estimate says. "Of note, we assess that Al-Qaeda will probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have exposed a desire to attack the Homeland."

And there is this chilling conclusion in the Estimate: "We assess that Al-Qaeda will continue to acquire and employ chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons in attacks and would not hesitate to use them if it develops what it deems is sufficient capability."

The fact that intelligence agencies weren't right about Saddam Hussein having such capabilities at the time the second Iraq war began does not mean there is every likelihood they aren't right now.

Yes, there are other groups fighting U.S. and British soldiers in Iraq. But the really gruesome attacks, the bombings in markets and Mosques, the killing of journalists and innocent school children, are mainly the work of Al-Qaeda. Even the dangerous Shiite militias are not as culpable.

Both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times are giving themselves to all sorts of complacent attitudes about the dangers that confront us. And Time magazine is doing no better. Posted on Time.com this morning, and in the magazine as well, is coverage of the battle at Islamabad's Red Mosque last week that is perhaps a little too sympathetic to the terrorists, reminding one of that magazine's recent suggestion that we "reach out" to Hamas.

The newspapers this morning could not even summon up the courage to call for something as easily understandable as the need for Cardinal Mahony to resign. Can they summon up the courage to think realistically about the options in Iraq? Can Time magazine?

I don't think so, and have to say, no wonder there's so much distrust of the mainstream press, when we cannot count on it to come to firm and realistic conclusions.


Jeff Wald has stepped down as News Director at KTLA, the Tribune-owned Channel Five. He had a long tenure, but certainly has been disappointed for some time at some of the policies of the Tribune ownership. Even before 2004, when I retired from the L.A. Times, Wald expressed to me his disillusion with Tribune.

The death of his wife undoubtedly influenced Wald's decision, since he felt he should be devoting more time to raising his teenage daughter and caring for his elderly father. He was a competent manager and will be missed.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Conversation Between Hiller And O'Shea, (Satire)

Here is a possibly not-so-imaginary conversation between the Chicago toadies -- L.A. Times publisher David Hiller and editor James O'Shea -- in wake of Hiller's announcement of plans to put ads on Page 1 of all Tribune newspapers, including the Times.

Hiller: James, that was great. The old carrot and stick. I announce the ads, and you denounce them. That will certainly fool the newsroom.

O'Shea: I don't know. I think they may be catching on to us.

Hiller: Nonsense. Our credibility remains high. They think we mean well for the newspaper. They just don't realize that what we're really going to do is sink the Times and get the revenge FitzSimons wants.

O'Shea: That's what I can't figure out. Why does he hate the Times, Los Angeles and California so much?

Hiller: He's envious. He realizes he lives in a second rate city, with bad food besides, and Los Angeles is first rate. He can't stand it. He has that old Richard Nixon mentality of resenting his betters. You should hear his tape-recorded conversations.

O'Shea: But why are we going along? Why don't we follow Baquet, Carroll, Puerner and Johnson and at least grab a little glory for ourselves? We could find other jobs.

Hiller: Don't be a fool. Don't you realize that when the paper goes under, if we've done what FitzSimons wants without complaining, we'll participate in the big bonuses that always go to business failures like Mark Willes. We'll be millionaires for life.

O'Shea: I suppose so. That will be some consolation.

Hiller: I'll be smiling all the way to the bank. After all, the bonuses will come mainly out of the employees' 401 K's. They'll be stuck in lasting squalor in their old age, and we'll have homes on the Riviera.

O'Shea: And we won't have to eat all that bad Chicago food any more. So what's your next step, after the Page 1 ads?

Hiller: I've been thinking about it. We can kill off the Sports section, possibly. After all, when Tribune sells the Cubs, we'll no longer have any interest in Sports.

O'Shea: A ha! But won't Bill Dwyre be mad? After all, we ran a full page ad on him.

Hiller: That was only to lull him and all his friends into complacency. Advertise about how proud you are to have them on one day, and lay them off the next, that's what I say. I got that from my friend, Don Rumsfeld.

O'Shea: Still, sometimes I have a twinge of conscience. My parents raised me to be honorable and straightforward.

Hiller: Don't be a chump. Nice guys finish last, as the Cubs prove again and again.

O'Shea: You don't think old Sam Zell may still foil our plans, do you?

Hiller: Hell no. FitzSimons has already put one over on him, hasn't he? If Zell meant to help the company, he'd have fired him long ago.

(Both men take another chaw of chewing tobacco, and hit each other on the back. Conversation ends).


Roman Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony looks like the morally sick old man he is in making an apology to all the people who were victimized by pedofile priests. However, his apology is not enough. Mahony should resign, and spend the rest of his life in disgrace.

Thanks, meanwhile, to the great Superior Court judge who handled this case, Haley Fromholz, a classmate of mine at Dartmouth in the 1950s. Fromholz worked 27 years in a Los Angeles law firm, before deciding to take a pay cut and become a judge. He didn't enjoy the pedofile cases, but, thank God, he has done his duty.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

In Waziristan And Lebanon, Crushing The Vipers

In the Pakistani regions bordering Afghanistan, known as North and South Waziristan, the smashing of the Muslim fanatics occupying the Red Mosque in the Pakistan capital of Islamabad last week has been followed by suicide bombings that have killed almost 100 Pakistani soldiers and security personnel.

It may be the end of the illusory truce that the regime of Pervez Musharraf entered into 10 months ago with Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces, under which they pledged that in exchange for being let alone by the Pakistan Army, they would desist from using Pakistani territory to attack across the border against Allied troops in Afghanistan. Like virtually all assurances given by the terrorists, these turned out not to be worth the paper they were printed on. Once Musharraf showed the weakness of seeking peace, the terrorists were only encouraged to step up their attacks, and violence in Afghanistan has reached the highest level since 2001.

Now, Musharraf seems more determined to fight extremism in the border regions as well as the rest of his country. His action against the Red Mosque, the slaying of its leader, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, and the ending of the Mosque's harassment against Islamabad civilians, at a cost exceeding 100 lives, seems to have marked a new departure for him, a realization that temporizing with the Muslim fundamentalists is not a workable policy.

But in a week that also saw the U.S. Senate vote 87-1 to raise the reward for the capture or death of Osama bin Laden to $50 million, it is clear that crushing the terrorists in North and South Waziristan will not be child's play. One has to wonder whether the Pakistani army will prove equal to the task.

The stakes are great. Should the terrorists prevail in Pakistan, they could acquire control over that nation's nuclear weapons, confronting the U.S., Europe and India with a terrible crisis, one dwarfing the Iraq war.

The New York Times carries a report in Monday's paper that the U.S. is planning a $750 million economic aid project for the border areas. But it also quotes concerns that the money might only fall into the hands of the terrorists. This would seem to go without saying. Economic aid, without decisive military action first, would seem to make no sense. This is not a matter of "hearts and minds." The enemy must be crushed.

We see, meanwhile, in Lebanon, how what were at first estimated to be just 200 terrorists fighting under the aegis of an Al-Qaeda-lining group known as Fatah al-Islam, in the Nahr-el-Rashid Palestinian refugee camp, has turned out to be a festering rebellion that continues to stymie all attempts of the Lebanese Army and police to stamp out. Talks sponsored by the French government among various Lebanese factions, including Hezbollah, do not include Fatah al-Islam.

For weeks now, the Lebanese authorities have claimed to have, for all intents and purposes, rubbed out Fatah Al-Islam, only to see, during this weekend, the terrorist group fire rounds of Katyusha rockets at nearby villages. The Lebanese Army continues to fire artillery into the refugee camp, but the battle goes on, and the suspicion grows that Syria may be behind and resupplying Fatah Al-Islam, which maybe started out with far more than 200 fighters.

Stamping out all these vipers is no small task. We know how resilient have been the Al Qaeda-dominated insurgents in Iraq. Attempts to bring about peace in Somalia, following the perceived defeat of the Islamic Courts movement there, has been accompanied by continuing incidents, such as today's, when the Islamists fired mortars into a peace conference in an attempt to assassinate the Somalian leadership that is allied with Ethiopia.

Looking around the Middle East and South Asia, from southern Thailand, through the Pakistan border regions, to Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza, and even into North Africa, we see a gathering nexus of terrorism that poses a direct danger to Europe and the United States. We have little choice to stomp on the terrorists, wherever they raise their ugly heads. But it is not easy.


The figures are mind-boggling. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles has agreed to pay $660 million to 508 victims of child abuse, about $1.3 million per victim, after years of stonewalling by Cardinal Roger Mahony. Now it is high time that Mahony resigns, just as Cardinal Bernard Law did in Boston.

Mahony cannot make any reasonable excuse. Through his inaction, his failure to rein in miscreant priests, he bears direct responsibility for what has happened. He owes everyone an abject apology, and a resignation to allow new blood to take over the nation's largest archdiocese.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Tribune, And Flunky Hiller,To Put Ads On Page 1

Thursday night, David Hiller and Leo Wolinsky of the L.A. Times appeared before a group of San Fernando Valley civic leaders, where they more or less effectively tried to answer a whole legion of complaints about what the Times has become.

Friday, Hiller spit in everybody's face, by announcing that the Times is going to put ads on Page 1.

Hiller, the Chicago toady the Tribune Co. named publisher, when it canned its second publisher in L.A., Jeff Johnson, for being an honest man, portrayed the decision to put ads on Page 1 as his own. But since ads will go on Page 1 of all 10 Tribune "newspapers," it is clear that this is ultimately the responsibility of the inept businessman who is the CEO of Tribune Co., Dennis FitzSimons.

This is just the latest misstep these damn fools are taking in their assault against their readers, and especially the Californians who FitzSimons and Hiller detest. For Hiller, a crony of such disastrous personalities as Clinton persecutor Ken Starr and Iraq war mishandler Donald Rumsfeld, it is the latest step in which he has proved himself an accomplice of those at Tribune who insist, repeatedly, on constantly spinning their papers down a sinkhole of failure. One of the cases in which Hiller was earlier the accessory to morally corrupt behavior was when he fired Dean Baquet as Times editor last year for courageously taking a stand against Tribune policies.

In this case, Hiller's usual fellow-toady at the Times, editor James O'Shea, wants to at least pretend that he has had enough. O'Shea, struggling to salvage the shreds of a diminishing reputation, issued a statement yesterday saying he vigorously opposed putting ads on Page 1.

"Front-page ads diminish the newspaper, cheapen the front page and reduce the space devoted to news," O'Shea said. "This would be a huge mistake that will penalize the reader."

It would also penalize the advertiser. When the second-rate department store chain, Macy's, put wraparound ads around Times news sections, I and others urged that Macy's be boycotted, and those ads have now diminished in frequency. It should be stated now that anyone who advertises on Page 1 of the Times should no longer be patronized.

Tom Mulligan's story in the Times Business section today, which ran on Page 3 of the Business section when it should have been on Page 1 of the entire paper, says that unnamed employees were circulating a petition against Page 1 ads. Since, however, the Tribune continues to lay off workers and downgrade the staff, I wonder how many will sign the petition. Past petitions with Tribune have been about as availing as a petition of Jews would have been to solicit good will from Hitler.

Also, in the Mulligan article, he quotes Martin Kaplan, a member of the staff of the USC Annenberg School of Communication, as expressing some understanding for the Page 1 ads. Kaplan should desist, lest he harm his own reputation for integrity.

Because, understand one thing, this is a dividing line, and those who accept the ads are putting themselves on the side of the men, like FitzSimons and Hiller, who are pushing onward with policies that will wreck the paper and have already done it grievous injury.

In the latest of his dark memos to the staff, yesterday, Hiller said that revenue is down 10% at the Times this year, and cash flow 27%.

But why is this happening? It is because everything the Tribune Co. has done since purchasing Times-Mirror papers seven years ago has been a gross error. The Tribune Co., with its constant diminishment of its newspapers, its reduction of staff and news hole, its spitting in the face of its readers, its assumption of greater and greater debt, is the architect of its own destruction.

We saw that at Thursday's meeting of the San Fernando Valley community councils. One person after another arose to deplore the termination of the weekly TV Guide, the scrapping of the Valley section, the termination of coverage of high school sports, the ignoring of political races, the printing of anti-Israel editorials, the shoving of more news out of the newspaper and onto the Times Web site, the list went on and on. Several of those attending said they had recently cancelled their subscriptions. Several said they take the Valley News, although they don't much like it, to get local news.

Although his manner was pleasant, Hiller's answers were lame. The long-suffering Wolinsky did a little better.

But make no mistake, when the first Page 1 ad appears in the L.A. Times, the dye will be cast. Subscribers will cancel in great numbers, the paper will become a laughing stock. The revenue will continue to drop, remaining cash flow will vanish, and finally FitzSimons and Hiller will be terminated. The question is whether by then it will be too late to save the newspaper.

(By the way, Joe Zekas, who criticizes this blog in a comment below, is a Chicago real estate man. I don't need his advice on journalistic values, and I strongly suspect Zekas was put up to this by FitzSimons. Both of them seem to have been contaminated by eating bad Chicago food. I do appreciate his having the courage to identify himself, however).


Kudos to Jerry Clark, chairman of the Old Farts (the retired Times employees association), for his comment today on Hiller's announcement. Here it is:

"The way things are going at our alma mater, I wouldn't be surprised in the future to see a small refer box above the Page One ads, stating, 'The Iraq War Is Over--See story on Page 18. after the department store block of full page ads. For more news, see Latimes.com.' Remember when we worked for a newspaper."


Friday, July 13, 2007

Lady Bird Johnson -- And Other Political Wives

Both the Los Angeles Times and New York Times yesterday had long, colorful obituaries of Lady Bird Johnson, the wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who died Wednesday in Austin, Texas at 94.

Elaine Woo, the skillful LAT obituary writer, reported that the late House Speaker, Sam Rayburn, had once told Johnson that marrying Lady Bird was the wisest decision he had ever made, and Enid Nemy, writing in the New York Times, quoted the great New York Times reporter James Reston as saying in 1960, "Lyndon could never have made it this far without the help of that woman." It reminded me of something my late father, a Navy Rear Admiral, once told me: "The men who make admiral have wives who are accepted well by the Navy."

Both of the newspapers ran the famous picture taken in Dallas on the fatal day of Nov. 22, 1963, showing Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson comforting Jacqueline Kennedy after the assassination of her husband, John F. Kennedy.

Reading these long accounts of what a wonderful woman Lady Bird Johnson was (she suffered four miscarriages before persevering and having her first child, for example, and she stood by her husband, regardless of his affairs and the Vietnam war tragedy that ruined his reputation), I thought of some of the other great political wives and helpmates I knew as a political reporter for the L.A. Times. And some of those who were not distinguished.

Certainly one of the great political wives was Bernice Brown, the wife of former Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown. The daughter of a San Francisco police captain, she had a college education (at U.C. Berkeley) when Pat never did, and she married him only after turning him down several times. He never regretted the great effort he had made to win her hand. Always self-possessed, Bernice Brown often had a wonderful wit about their marriage. One time, in Sacramento, when Pat seemed to have forgotten her first name, Bernice humorously interjected, "his wife of 38 years." She also was not only the wife of one governor, but the mother of another, and the mother of another child who was later a Democratic candidate for governor. She, in short, was the matriarch of a great political family.

During his first major bid for the Presidency in 1976, I had a chance to get to know Nancy Reagan, wife of Ronald Reagan. After Reagan had lost his first five Presidential primaries to then-President Gerald R. Ford, Nancy Reagan did not lose heart. She encouraged Reagan to bring up the Panama Canal issue, and he made a terrific comeback in the Southern and Western primaries, almost wresting the nomination from Ford that year. Nancy was bright and loyal as Reagan's longtime second wife. As with Lyndon Johnson, Reagan might never have become President without her help and devotion. And later her independence, on such issues as stem cell research, marked her as a worthy figure in her own right. She is very widely admired today.

Some legislative wives, as well, were invaluable to their husbands. Dolores Beilenson, wife of Assemblyman, State Sen. and Rep. Tony Beilenson, did her husband a great service by insisting on moving the family from Beverly Hills to Sacramento and Washington, when he served in both places. Not content to be a stay-at-home wife as so many, she made a major difference to Tony's happiness in office. Other prominent legislators who kept their wives at home, were not as well-adjusted.

Sometimes, it took a long time for a politician to marry the woman who was his helpmate and closest friend. This was true of Jesse Unruh and his longtime mistress, Chris Edwards. Unruh married Chris only long after she became his mistress, in the last year of his life, when he was dying of prostate cancer. He used to treat her with some disdain, not realizing her value. One time, when I talked to Unruh about possibly mounting another campaign for governor, he told me, "If I were to run for governor, I'd have to marry Chris, stop drinking and be nice to the press corps, and I don't want to do any of those things." But, finally, Unruh was glad he married Chris.

Jacqueline Kennedy, of course, later became a national icon, in part because of her unforgettable resilience after the assassination of her husband, in part because of her beauty, style and role as a parent of two memorable children. But Jacqueline Kennedy was not, in my view, all that great a political wife. She disdained much of the ordinary campaigning of successful politicians and only seldom accompanied her husband when he ran for President in 1960. As head of the Kennedy-for-President club at Dartmouth College that year, I had an opportunity to see Mrs. Kennedy's reluctance to stump New Hampshire with the future President. I sometimes wonder whether Jack Kennedy would have had so many affairs, had he felt closer to Jacqueline (although, of course, Johnson had affairs despite his closeness to Lady Bird).

Jacqueline Kennedy was nonetheless an asset to Jack, because of her great looks and style. But I knew a few political wives who were albatrosses around the necks of their husbands. This was true of Bethine Church, wife of the late Idaho Sen. Frank Church. When Church briefly ran for President in 1976, she had a nasty habit of interrupting him when he tried to answer reporters' questions. Like Lt. Gov. Glenn Anderson's wife and Los Angeles Police Chief Ed Davis' first wife, she was no asset. (Davis, when he went into politics married a campaign worker, Bobbie Trueblood, who was devoted to him and, despite being considerably younger, stuck with him in his last difficult years of retirement before he died at 89. She is a thoroughly admirable woman.

Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley's wife, Ethel, seldom shared his life as mayor, and was chiefly noted as an inveterate Dodgers fan. Nina Warren, wife of Governor and later Chief Justice Earl Warren, was a direct contrast, always fully sharing in the life of her husband and a tremendous asset to him.

Of the four presidential candidates I covered, Nancy Reagan was my favorite as a wife. Abigail McCarthy and Rosalynn Carter created only indifferent impressions, and Lurline Wallace I positively disliked, although I felt sympathy with her for the way she was treated by her husband, George Wallace, when she was dying of cancer.

What was rare about Lady Bird Johnson, as the obituaries about her explained, was that quite aside from being a great helpmate and devoted companion to her husband, she was an accomplished person in her own right, a highly successful businesswoman and a champion of beautification in American life. She throughly deserved the honors that later came to her, a Medal of Freedom from President Jimmy Carter in 1977 and a Congressional Gold Medal in 1988.

In that respect, she was like Eleanor Roosevelt, the memorable and indomitable wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

But sometimes politicians' wives who remained out of the limelight were still tremendously important, because of the help and companionship they gave their husbands. Such was Bess Truman. Harry Truman almost never spent a night away from her, despite his long and varied career stumping the country. And we can never forget Clementine Churchill and Yvonne de Gaulle, the wives of the great World War II leaders. I didn't know them, but I admired them from afar, just as I did their husbands.

Strong and devoted wives, in and out of public life, are a Godsend.


Khalid Hassan, 23, an interpreter and reporter in the New York Times bureau in Baghdad since 2003, was killed today under mysterious circumstances, while he was on his way to work. He was the 110th journalist to be killed in the Iraq war, including 87 Iraqi citizens and two Americans.

Bill Keller, the executive editor of the New York Times, issued this statement: "Khalid, was part of a larger, sometimes unsung community of news-gatherers, translators and support staff who take enormous risks every day to help us comprehend their country's struggle and torment. Without them, Americans understanding of what is happening on the ground in Iraq would be much, much poorer. To the Times, Khalid was family and his death was heartbreaking."

John Burns, the great Baghdad bureau chief for the Times, called Hassan "a resourceful and brave member of our news team." He was the second NYT staff member in Baghdad to lose his life.