Monday, December 31, 2007

This Blog's Person-of-the-Year Is Al Gore

This was an unstructured year. No remarkable success stands out, there has been no conclusion to a great enterprise, and the choice of a Person-of-the-Year is not therefore an obvious one. The War on Terror went on, with some improvement in Iraq, perhaps some deterioration in Afghanistan, and Pakistan veered toward the abyss. The Burmese people rose against their military oppressors, but they were crushed. The American election of 2008, upon which so much focuses, begins three days into the New Year, but no one candidate has established any kind of commanding presence yet, and the ultimate choice remains a mystery. President Bush muddled on through the year, avoiding defeat in the Middle East, but not winning confidence as an able leader. The subprime crisis caused consternation, but the economy has not so far slipped into a recession.

Given these circumstances, I thought long and hard about a choice for Person-of-the-Year, and I'm not really satisfied with the choice I've made. But it is Al Gore, winner of a Nobel Peace Prize for his emergence as the world's leading exponent for taking action to stem global warming, who gets the nod.

It can easily be argued that Gore has not been successful yet. The United Nations' global warming conference in Bali was mostly a bust. Global warming has not emerged as an important issue in the developing U.S. election campaign.

But millions of people have become more aware of the issue in the last year, there is more talk about global warming, people are watching the weather pages of newspapers more, and the television networks are paying more attention to the weather. The man identified most with the issue is clearly Gore.

He commands admiration for other things. Many persons who had won the popular vote but lost the electoral vote and failed to become President (in part because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision) would have become embittered and retired into private life. But Gore did not. He went on to new things. He made a lot of money lecturing. He made a well-regarded movie on the issue that preoccupied him. He remained a vital force in national and international life, and, in fact, his advocacy has been stronger since the 2000 election than before it. His may not be the most exciting personality, but he is gaining more of our attention.

Mainly, it is the coming to the fore of the global warming problem that has allowed Gore to begin to strike a chord. As Time magazine reported last week, a three-foot rise of the world's oceans would displace 100 million people, and a rise of 20 feet would displace 400 million.

And perhaps this is an understatement of what could happen. The melting of the glaciers alone could easily cause a world crisis, but there would be other effects, drought, changes in crop yields, perhaps more violent storms. Within the next century, unless something is done, this could become an utter catastrophe for mankind.

Perhaps technological innovation may deal with it. Perhaps nuclear power and other forms of generating power will reduce it. Perhaps, people will even seriously adopt conservation, as the L.A. Times and other editorial pages want them to. But, at this point, the overall outlook is not a bright one.

Gore is identified with the issue. When the Bali conference began to crumble, he flew there, blamed the stalling bluntly on the United States, and, to a small extent, the U.S. had to give ground.

Since it is the great controversies that ultimately move electoral politics, it is not even foreclosed that the former vice president could become president (although not in 2008). Even if he thinks now this is unlikely, he could be swept to political power by an inexorable tide. Stranger things have happened.

The important thing for now is that this is important, and Gore and the majority of scientists are probably right about it. I'm not saying they understand everything they need to learn about the climate, and about the consequences of global warming. But they understand enough for most of the rest of us to be sure they are on the right track.

So, 2007 was an unstructured year. But with his efforts, Al Gore was trying mightily to give it some structure. He was looking forward when so many leaders were preoccupied with petty political concerns. His good will, his humanitarian spirit, could not be denied, at a time when religious fanatics continued to dominate the news. For these reasons, and I'm feeling better about the choice as I write, Gore is my Person-of-the-Year.


For sheer great reporting, it is hard to beat Somini Sengupta's article that led the New York Times today, on the choice of the slain Benazir Bhutto's party of Bhutto's 19-year-old Bilawal, as its new leader. When attempts to question the young Oxford student were cut off as soon as they started, Sengupta somehow managed to collar him for an interview anyway. Her story shows how lucky the NYT is to have Sengupta covering the subcontinent during one of the most turbulent periods in its history.


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Scoundrels of 2007 Are Imams Who Abet Bombings

There is only one thing more contemptible than a suicide bomber, and that is the person or person who encourages the bomber.

According to the best available information, from many sources, fundamentalist Islamic imams are the greatest instigators of these crimes, and I believe the War on Terror should be directed primarily at the instigators. Quite simply, these imams must be rubbed out, along with those who inspire them, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri of the Al-Qaeda death cult. Just as we finally destroyed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, so the answer here is to find the others and treat them without mercy.

In 2007, the instigators were the scoundrels of the year. That distinction went in 2006 to Iranian President Mahmoud Achmadinejad. This year saw Achmadinejad come under pressure politically, both at home in Iran and abroad. He ended up, perhaps, not quite as large a danger.

The radical imams have grown into a greater danger. Not confined to the Arab world, they are found in Britain, Germany, Spain and other European countries, and there are even radical imams in the United States. All of them constitute a clear and present danger. We cannot afford to let them foment their crimes and hide behind their bombers.

One reporter who has followed the radicals with steadfast determination is Andrea Elliott of the New York Times. Elliott won a Pulitzer Prize this year for her coverage of a Brooklyn imam, and then went to the city of Tetuane in Morocco and wrote a long story about a place that is the point of origin for many suicide bombers in the Madrid train attacks, and which also has sent many fighters to Iraq to try to defeat U.S. forces.

It was not so much the pathetic numb skulls who undertake suicide bombings, as the imams that told them they would go to paradise and be able to sleep with virgins if they only committed murder and died doing so. according to Elliott's findings.

How should we deal with these people? In World War II, the Nazis and the Japanese were defeated in large part by mass bombings that destroyed their cities and, finally, discouraged the local populace from pursuing its nefarious goals. Both the Germans and Japanese became quite peaceful after their tyrannies were smashed. In the end, they weren't allowed to be extremists.

I suspect the same could be true now. When we act with devastating ferocity toward these religious neantherals, then, and only then, will the suicide attacks stop.

So, I say without hesitation, let's go after them where ever they are. No mollycoddling. No mistaken appeasement. We have to make sure the scoundrels of 2007 are not attacking us with atomic and biological weapons in 2017.


Los Angeles International Airport is a dangerous mess. This was evident again early this morning when I arrived on United Airlines Flight 925 from Washington-Dulles, at 12:20 a.m.

We ended up sitting on the tarmac for 40 minutes, before getting to our gate. The pilot finally explained that there was a microphone out of commission in the control tower, and he could not communicate with the tower. Besides, he said, there was only one controller on duty to handle all the flight traffic that was coming in and out at that hour.

I don't know how many such flights there were, but we did see other planes taxiing about.

If memory serves, the presence of only one controller was held to be partially to blame for a fatal accident last year at the Lexington, Ky. airport early one morning. Of course, LAX is bigger. One controller cannot possibly suffice.

There needs to be an official and journalistic investigation of conditions at LAX. It is not doing its job, and, in not doing it, is endangering passengers and pilots alike.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Who Is Behind The Bhutto Assassination?

Written from Needham, Mass.--

After the American journalist Daniel Pearl was beheaded in 2002 in Karachi, Pakistan, the French writer Bernard Henri Levy wrote a book, "Who Killed Daniel Pearl?" that suggested the crime resulted from Pearl finding out too much about the connections between Pakistan's intelligence services, nuclear scientists, and Islamic terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda.

That book comes to mind today as we consider who was behind the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, an act which has spun that chaotic, dictatorial country into a greater crisis that affects the whole world.

Much has been written about the assassination in the 48 hours since it occurred. I particularly was impressed by the Op Ed Page piece in the Los Angeles Times by Amy Wilentz, wife of Op Ed Page Editor Nick Goldberg, who had known Bhutto since their student days at Harvard, and had interviewed her only recently in Dubai. Wilentz wrote that Bhutto, as prime minister, had been "notoriously-high handed," before being removed for allegedly being corrupt, and she suggested "the desire for political redemption pulled her back" from exile in the present situation.

"Certainly, she knew the mess she was stepping into: a nuclear-armed country governed -- or not governed -- by an unstable military-affiliated regime in the neighborhood of two U.S. wars. It was clear that her return might make the mess messier," Wilentz wrote.

"Bhutto's hideous murder has made the situation even more obscure, but as events play out, perhaps we will see more plainly who the real players are in Pakistan. Her death, and the definitive end of the Bhutto dynasty, means a new era for Pakistan. But a new era is not always a better one."

Certainly, Bhutto was a conflicted character, as the obituary in the New York Times by its great Middle Eastern reporter, John Burns, now stationed in London, made clear yesterday. Burns described Bhutto as "a woman of complex and often contradictory instincts. Mrs. Bhutto was a politician who presented herself on public platforms as the standard-bearer for Pakistan's impoverished masses, for civil liberties and for an unfettered democracy, while at the same time she often behaved in an imperious manner in private, and in her dealings as prime minister with government officials, diplomats and reporters.

"She once rebuked a reporter who was left waiting for an interview in the living room of the prime minister's residence in Islamabad for having the temerity to look at family photographs on the mantel shelf. 'Where do you think you are?,' she asked."

Bhutto, when she returned to Pakistan recently, seemed to have a death wish, not forgetting that her father, the onetime president and prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had been hung by a military dictator in 1979. What else can explain her insistence on appearing in risky situations in public even after suicide attacks directed against her had killed 140 persons on the night she returned?

Bhutto, like John F. Kennedy, was riding visibly in an open car in a dangerous city, when she was shot and her car blown up. Since then, there have been suggestions that Al-Qaeda was behind the crime, but there have been charges by her allies that elements in the Pakistani government close to the present military dictator, Pervez Musharaff, may have been at least complicit in the crime.

On the basis that Al Qaeda and its allies in the Taliban have the most to profit from the lack of stability in Pakistan, I might be inclined to let Musharaff himself off the hook. Why would he want a murder that could only compound the dangers to himself?

But the fact is that Musharaff, an "ally" of the United States after a fashion in the War on Terror, does not well control his own government, military or intelligence services. They are rife, as I remarked two days ago, with conspirators, traitors and loonies capable of anything. It is representative of the larger, tortured Islamic world.

Now, there are many calls for an international investigation into Bhutto's assassination. But just what good that would do escapes me, since, like the Kennedy assassination, masses of the public would never be satisfied with the explanation. It is also clear that, regardless whether they were guilty in this instance or not, the leaders of Al-Qaeda, for the good of humanity, must be exterminated just as soon as they can be found. It is unbelievable that this has not already happened.

Besides that, there are bigger issues in Pakistan than Bhutto's death. What would happen were Pakistan's nuclear weapons fell into the hands of the extremists?

It could well be that foreign intervention in this country will be needed. It would be mandatory did it appear likely that Musharaff was going to fall and possibly be replaced by the terrorists.

This indeed is a world crisis, and, fundamentally, it involves nuclear proliferation. It should certainly be clear that the U.S., India, Israel and even Russia and Western Europe could not afford to live with an Al-Qaeda-dominated nuclear weapon.

A dynamic, ambitious and, to a degree, a noble woman with high aspirations, is dead. What will now follow?

One thing that must follow is a strong dedication to their own personal security by the world's leaders. Assassins are loose, and none of these leaders should go riding around anywhere in an open car.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Mistaken Journalist Of 2007 Is Andrew Rosenthal

Andrew Rosenthal, son of the late great New York Times Executive Editor A.M. Rosenthal, and editorial pages editor of the New York Times since Jan. 8, 2007 "wins," if that is the word for it, my choice as "Mistaken Journalist of the Year" for his shrill editorials calling for the immediate beginning of an American withdrawal from Iraq.

Rosenthal's father was an unapologetic hawk in foreign affairs. Andrew Rosenthal is a craven dove who would abdicate America's position in the world, and, I believe, plunge the planet into a new dark age in which Islamic Fascists and other wackos could well become dominant.

There is certainly nothing wrong in and of itself in sons following a different path than their fathers. I've known many such generational changes, and, by and large, I tend to favor them. It is vitally important for the sons to pursue their own beliefs and careers, standing apart from their fathers, developing their own careers.

But in Andrew Rosenthal's case, he has gone too far, and made the New York Times editorials on many occasions sound as if they were extremist and not solicitous of American national interests. As such, he has damaged the credibility of the newspaper. Rosenthal wrote sensitively after his father's death about his feelings of wanting to be separate from him. Those feelings are understandable, but I still feel he has lost any sense of proportion about it.

The L.A. Times too has called for a withdrawal from Iraq, but not quite in the shrill and often-repeated call of Rosenthal's editorial page. Sonni Efron, writer of the L.A. Times foreign affairs editorials, and Jim Newton, the LAT editorial page editor, have lightened up by at least complimenting U.S. armed forces for the success of their "surge" against rebellious forces in Iraq, and wished them well, even while opting for a phased withdrawal. This is a better, more understandable position than that taken by the New York Times.

Rosenthal appears so consumed with his hatred of President George W. Bush that he has lost perspective and usually, willy-nilly, assails the President, without any regard for the consequences should the Bush policies fail.

Also, in seeming to stand on principle, the New York Times editorial pages frequently lose sight of the forest for the trees. They, in my view, actually endanger America by calling for unrealistic changes in the American position.

We see that again just today with an editorial on the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. It is an unabashed appeal for the U.S. to cast out the baby with the bathwater and give blind support to democracy in Pakistan, no matter what happens to the government of Pervez Musharaff.

The sad truth is that Pakistan, throughout its sad history, has seldom if ever been a truly democratic country, and democracy in the present instance might bring the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to power, giving them possession of the country's nuclear weapons.

American self-interest, and the peace of the world, require a less doctrinaire position. Once again, Rosenthal's dovishness has trumped all other interests.

My "Mistaken Journalist of the Year" last year was Michael Duffy of Time magazine, who had been totally erroneous in his prediction, in a cover story no less, that Mr. Bush would change course in Iraq and bug-out.

This year, Duffy has written more carefully, and it's my hope that in 2008 Andrew Rosenthal will do the same. He's sure to remain New York Times editorial pages editor, but he conceivably might learn from experience and be a more careful and responsible one.


The New York Times on today's Web site is presenting an audio by photographer John Moore, and pictures he took of the last moments of the life of Benazir Bhutto, before foul assassins shot her and blew up her car.

In the remarkable audio, Moore tells of Bhutto's last emotional speech, decrying terrorism and the Islamic fanatics who are behaving so barbarically. Then, there's the last picture of Bhutto rising out of the sun roof of her vehicle, like John F. Kennedy exposing himself to the assassin. Then, finally, there is an explosion, blurred photographs of the fireball. Bhutto has disappeared, falling into the vehicle, and the mob is fleeing the scene. It is altogether a dramatic presentation.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Journalists Of The Year, Hayasaki, Daragahi, Stack

My choice for Journalists of the Year are Los Angeles Times writers Erika Hayasaki, Borzou Daragahi and Megan Stack. All rendered brilliant reports this year on the tensions and violence that afflict society. And what better day to recognize these vital talents on a day when the news comes of another despicable assassination in the Middle East, that of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan.

Each of the brilliant journalists I'm recognizing today had a single story that stood out in the great body of their work in 2007, but each have contributed years of valuable reporting to the readers of the L.A. Times. They come from different backgrounds, but all three are superbly trained, write eloquent reports and and are capable through these reports of bringing knowledge and emotional truths out of the situations they describe. Our admiration of them should be unbounded.

Erika Hayasaki, 30, worked six years in Los Angeles for the Times before relocating to New York, where she covers both news and features, normally in the Northeast. But the high point of Hayasaki's reporting year was not exactly in the Northeast, but in Blacksburg, Virginia, where a lunatic, Seung Hui-Cho, killed 32 students and teachers in shootings on April 16, before killing himself.

Hayasaki's story, focused on the French class in Room 211, Norris Hall, taught by Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, where the beloved teacher and ten of her students were murdered, six others wounded, and the killer ultimately committed suicide, was a masterpiece. As I remarked at the time, "There has been no story so poignant on the Virginia Tech massacre as the one by Erika Hayasaki...Like Flaubert's classic novel, Madame Bovary, virtually every word in Hayasaki's article has its place. What she succeeds in doing is to portray the full horror of the event, the immensity of the loss, the evil of the killer, and the love the students felt for their teacher who was the first to die," but not before warning them to "Get in the back! Get imder your desks! Call 911!"

This was one of the great stories of the year, but in emotional power, the stories by Daragahi and Stack matched it.

Daragahi, 38, of Iranian descent, was a prize-winning Los Angeles Times reporter and bureau chief in Baghdad for four and a half years, and is now reporting in Egypt and Lebanon for the newspaper, with occasional visits to Iran.

His April 10 story, "Reporter recalls the layers of truth told in Iraq" was an account of how he survived all the terror of Baghdad through a combination of care, shrewdness and frequent dissembling in various locales of just who he was and who he represented.

"Now that I am out of Iraq, I can begin to be honest," he wrote.

"For years, I had swaddled myself in layers of half-truths. I was an Iranian heading to the shrine cities. I was an average Joe from the Midwest who liked to go canoeing in the summer. I was a reporter for Radio Canada here to tell the truth about what's happening in Iraq. I was an Iranian journalist visiting the brave fighters of Sadr City.

"Sometimes I went beyond the truth in the name of survival. I was a Sunni Arab with a speech impediment. I was a sympathetic journalist visiting the brave Sunni patriots of west Baghdad. I was among a group of pharmacists heading down to visit a hospital caring for truck bomb victims. Anything to get the story and get out.

"In fact, I am an Iranian American reporter from Chicago, a graduate of Columbia University's journalism school, where I was taught that the greatest journalists were impartial and balanced."

Daragahi's piece on what it took to do fair reporting in Baghdad was another masterpiece. Before he went to work for the L.A. Times there, he had been a freelancer. In the story, he told of visiting Kurdistani parts of Iraq in 2002 and being told by Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish leader who later became president of Iraq after the American takeover, that "Liberating Iraq is easy. Ruling Iraq is difficult."

"Even then," Daragahi writes, "we caught glimpses of the demons now ravaging Iraq."

The Daragahi story was one of several the Times ran this year about the experiences of and issues facing journalistic coverage in tension-wracked parts of the world, particularly the Middle East.

Another was the June 6 story by Megan Stack, 31, about her years of covering Saudi Arabia, before she was transferred to Moscow to become the paper's Russian correspondent. She has just begun that assignment after months of studying the Russian language and history, and has also been working on a book about the War on Terror. Her manuscript is due in July, but much is already written.

Reporting in Saudi Arabia, wrote Stack in her article, "In Saudi Arabia, a view from behind the veil," was a deeply unsettling experience for a young, American woman such as herself.

"I was ready to cope, or so I thought," she wrote. "I arrived with a protective smirk in tow, planning to thicken the walls around myself. I'd report a few stories and go home. I had no inkling that Saudi Arabia, the experience of being a woman there, would stick to me, follow me home on the plane and shadow me through my days, taunting the way I perceived men and women everywhere.

"I'm leaving the Middle East now, closing up years spent covering the fighting and fallout that have swept the region since Sept. 11. Of all the strange, scary and joyful experiences of the past years, my time covering Saudi Arabia remains among the most jarring."

There is simply no way of adequately capsulating the Hayasaki, Daragahi and Stack stories. It is commonly said there is nothing older than yesterday's newspaper, but these articles should be published in some kind of anthology, so that readers can read and learn from them in the years ahead.

If you ever want to understand why print journalism is important, these "Journalists of the Year" are prime examples.

They deserve every compliment that can be expressed about them. It is great to be able to contend that they are the "Journalists of the Year 2007."

The Journalist of the Year named last year was Dean Baquet. He has done mighty well this year, and I hope the same will be the case next year with Hayasaki, Daragahi and Stack.


We must wait to try to sort out just what was behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. While Al-Qaeda has reportedly claimed responsibility, the Pakistani government is so rife with conspirators, traitors and loonies that it is possible elements of the government of Pervez Musharaff were complicit.

The bottom line in Pakistan is that its nuclear weapons cannot under any circumstances be allowed to fall into the hands of the terrorists. There are contingencies for U.S. and Indian intervention in this chaotic country, which should never have been created in the first place. But it would be extremely dicey if the Bhutto assassination further destabilized what is already a critically dangerous situation. The dangers of nuclear proliferation are fully on display this morning, and we see in the strong statement by Vladimir Putin about the assassination that even the Russians are concerned about them, as they should be.

Bhutto was, of course, a woman. This is only the latest instance in the Islamic world of women being subjected to brutality, slavery, or death, if they sought to exercise their rights.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

This Blog Endorses McCain, Obama As Nominees

My blog is endorsing Sen. John McCain of Arizona for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois for the Democratic.

No candidate is perfect, each has drawbacks. But I believe both McCain and Obama are men of extraordinarily high character who can usher America forward into the next presidential term with ability, and with tolerance for all the diverse groups that make up America. Both, I believe, would be capable of managing America's vitally important role in the world, while developing economic and educational opportunities here at home.

There are other good candidates, but they have neither shown the resilience nor the capacity for inspirational leadership that McCain and Obama have. (Now, if Patti Solid Doyle, Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, were running herself, I might feel differently). I have great respect for Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, but he has a better chance to be the next Secretary of State than the next President. Clinton of New York, former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts have put on vigorous campaigns, but have proved changeable on many issues.

John McCain has served the nation in many capacities. The son and grandson of U.S. Navy admirals, he attended the Naval Academy and flew combat missions in the Vietnam war, being shot down over North Vietnam and spending five and a half years in enemy captivity, during which time he resisted torture and turned down an opportunity to be freed early by his captors, because of his family's military prominence. As a U.S. Senator and a presidential candidate, he has often struck tones of enlightenment and bipartisanship the country needs.

The greatest question about him is his age. At 71, McCain would be the oldest president ever elected, and, as someone pointed out in commenting on a blog a few days ago, this reminds one of the illness that shadowed Ronald Reagan's second term. McCain seems in relatively good health now, but who can say how he will hold up for four or eight years? It is important, if he won the GOP nomination, that he take a younger, vigorous running mate fully capable of assuming the presidency, if any health emergency should force him to step down.

This said, however, I believe that, compared to the other GOP candidates, McCain is the best. Not the least of his attractive attributes is his strong stand for fighting the Iraq war to a successful conclusion, and I also agree with his progressive stand on immigration issues. If McCain were the GOP nominee and Obama the Democratic, I believe that McCain would run an honorable campaign, and not try to use the racial issue against Obama.

Barack Obama is an inspiring example of young idealism, intelligence and commitment to principle. All of these attributes make him an outstanding candidate. Growing up from a biracial background, spending time as a youth abroad and in multiracial Hawaii, an extremely talented student at the Harvard Law School, where he headed the Law Review, serving as a community organizer, legislator in Illinois and then the state's U.S. Senator, he has never ceased to be distinguished and to develop his abilities. His equitable temperament, wonderful family and tremendous speaking ability have made him already a hero to countless Americans.

It is sometimes said that Obama is inexperienced. But he has had a lot of experience in pursuits that count, and he is four years older than John Kennedy or Theodore Roosevelt when they assumed the presidency. I am certain he would name an able cabinet, and presume he too would be careful in his selection of a running mate.

I will freely acknowledge that I do not agree with Obama's stand against the war. But he has made it clear in his campaign that he would forcefully defend the interests of the USA in the world, even while pursuing diplomatic contacts abroad and economic and educational opportunities at home.

Between McCain and Obama, I have not yet made up my mind. Many months must pass, and both must surmount the obstacles ahead of them, before I need pick one over the other.

America, and the rest of the world, which have such a stake in a successful outcome of the 2008 presidential race, are fortunate to have two such fine candidates in the field as McCain and Obama. It is with great respect for them, and fond hopes for the future, that this blog is supporting them.


The L.A. Times consumer columnist, David Lazarus, suggests in a provocative column this morning that the news gathering of the major newspapers not be made available over the Internet free of charge, and, that without charging, many papers will not survive.

I do not agree. As Google and Yahoo prove, advertising revenues can be made sufficient to keep Internet news free. The trend certainly this year has been toward free access to the big newspapers. The New York Times has made its entire Web free to readers and the Wall Street Journal is considering doing so. We have to go forward for a long time yet, without onerous charges that would restrict readers' ability to learn as much as they can about what is going on in the world.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Is This The First Zell Move, Or Just Coincidence?

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, everybody!

The year ahead is certain to be a dramatic one for the Tribune Co., owner of the Los Angeles Times, under its new CEO, Sam Zell. Since, in the newspaper business at least, he is such an unknown quantity, all we can do is watch carefully, and hope for the best.

Already, in the Los Angeles Times Business section this morning, there is an article by Roger Vincent speculating which pieces of Tribune-owned real estate, Tribune might sell, in order to pay down its heavy debt somewhat. At present, Vincent writes, Tribune only leases the old Times-Mirror Square, but it has an option to buy this property, and then could turn around and either sell or lease out the now mostly-empty Times-Mirror corporate headquarters. The Times, he writes, is likely to stay where it is in the older buildings on the famous Square.

There's quite a bit about the various options for the Tribune Tower in Chicago. Zell has already indicated he will sell the KTLA Studios in Hollywood, and there are opportunities for sales in Baltimore and elsewhere. Zell has vowed to sell the Chicago Cubs, maybe even before the start of the next season.

All this is interesting, but a small article in yesterday's New York Times piqued my interest more about Zell's plans, since it dealt with the future editorial page editorship of the Baltimore Sun, one of Tribune's big newspapers, and I think the real proof in the pudding about Zell will be what he does with his newspapers editorially.

There is no indication in the NYT article whether Zell had anything to do with the decision to take the editorial pages at the Sun out of the hands of the publisher and place them under the control of the top news editor. The NYT writes that this is an "unusual step," but I don't think it is, in light of the history of the L.A Times in this respect.

For many years, the L.A. Times editorial pages were under the direction of the paper's editor, although it was always understood that on endorsements of major candidates for public office, the publisher would have his say. When I first came to the paper in 1965, and for many years thereafter, there was a meeting each morning at which all the major news editors were present for a discussion and review on which editorials were to be presented the next day.

This has now changed. When he was editor, the strait-laced Dean Baquet did not want control of the editorial page, and it was vested in the hands of the publisher. It was Jeff Johnson who fired the hapless Michael Kinsley as editorial page editor, and, later, it was the new publisher, David Hiller, probably with the approval of the Chicago bosses he listened to so assiduously, who chose Jim Newton as the new Times editorial pages editor. Since then, Newton has reported to Hiller, who might be responsible for some of the goofier stands the paper has taken recently.

The argument for vesting control of the editorial pages under the paper's editor is that he might be better in tune with the interests of the community the paper serves than a publisher who is, after all, a businessman responsible for selling advertising, and conducting the paper as a business.

The New York Times wrote yesterday in the short piece signed by media writer Richard Perez-Pena that, "Newspapers usually try to keep a firm wall between the news-gathering operation and the editorial side, to make sure that the lines do not get blurred between the pages of objective journalism and the pages that explicitly voice opinions. But the Baltimore Sun is changing its system and has dismissed its editorial page editor."

At the Sun, Dianne Donovan, who headed the paper's editorial page for almost six years, was dismissed, her deputy, William Englund took a buyout, and control of the editorial pages was given to Tim Franklin, editor of the Sun. He will choose the next editorial page editor.

It is not, regardless what Perez-Pena suggests in the New York Times, the case that vesting control of the editorial pages in the news editor creates an insuperable conflict of interest, judging from the fact that this is the way it was long done at the L.A. Times and caused few if any problems. At the New York Times, in fact, there's a problem with the editorial pages, where the editor, Andrew Rosenthal, has become very shrill (and may even, next week, be named by this blog "Mistaken Journalist of the Year" for his repeated screeching for a precipitate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq).

The question is, is the move at the Baltimore Sun, being generated by Zell, or is this simply a reflection of his pledge the other day to let decisions at the various Tribune papers be made by local executives?

Maybe the latter, but the fact is, we don't know. We're going to have to watch in the weeks ahead to see whether similar moves are made at other Tribune papers.

Certainly, I would like to see Hiller give up control of the L.A. Times editorial pages to James O'Shea, who seems to have better news judgment.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Hillary Clinton Seems In Trouble; Bill No Help

This is no week for front runners in American presidential politics. In New Hampshire, one newspaper, the Concord Monitor, actually did an anti-endorsement on former Gov. Mitt Romney, assailing him for inconsistency and lack of character. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports this morning that former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani "has entered a turbulent period in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, marked by what his aides acknowledge are missteps, sharp shifts in strategy and evidence that reports about his personal life have hurt his national standing."

In New Hampshire, the Times reports, "A $3 million investment in radio and television advertising...a belated effort to become competitive in this state, is now viewed by the (Giuliani) campaign as a largely wasted expenditure."

Most important, as the brief Christmas hiatus in campaigning begins, just 10 days before the Iowa Caucuses and 15 days before the New Hampshire primary, there are new indications that the campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton, once viewed as rock solid, is becoming unraveled.

Mike Barnicle, the well-known New England columnist, writes in a special to the New York Daily News this morning that both Clinton and Giuliani "are rubbing New Hampshire voters the wrong way."

The Barnicle column appears just one day after a Boston Globe poll indicated that Sen. Barack Obama has taken the lead in New Hampshire over Clinton, 30% to 28%, while Sen. John McCain has rallied to within three points, 25%, to Romney's 28%, in the Granite State.

Meanwhile, in another of a series of compelling articles in the New York Times magazine, national political writer Matt Bai finds that the campaigning for Hillary Clinton by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, has turned counterproductive.

Bill Clinton, Bai writes, is talking too much about himself (in one recent speech he used the word "I" 94 times, while using Hillary's only 7), while both Bill and Hillary Clinton are referring too often to the 1990s, as compared with the present decade, at a time when many voters are turning to the future, not the past. Bill Clinton, he suggests, is something of a loose cannon, whose ramblings seem out of the control of the tightly-organized Hillary Clinton campaign.

Hillary Clinton has stepped up both advertising and staffing in Iowa and has gone into an attack mode against Obama. Her able campaign manager, Patty Solis Doyle, has virtually moved to Iowa to put on a full court press. Independently-funded attack ads on Obama have also begun to mark the pro-Clinton campaign.

But Hillary Clinton now often looks tired in photographs and has, on occasion, turned testy. Iowa's electorate is extremely well-attuned to front runners who have lost their stride, as Howard Dean did four years ago, and there is real question whether she can hold on and win the Caucuses. If she loses, it could have a greatly adverse effect elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the perceptive Washington Post political writer David Broder has written a column extolling Obama's main stump speech these days as a 40-minute winner that appeals to the voters as a harbinger of change in the presidency. He thinks the speech is brilliant.

Obama, it is true, suffers from some of the same problems as Clinton. She would be the first woman president and Obama the first black, and many Democratic voters, concerned at their inability in the last two elections to defeat President Bush, are worried that the electorate, in the last analysis, could turn against either one in the general election next November. So, there is some holding back from both.

However, it should be noted, Obama is running better than Clinton in paired matches in the polls against Romney, McCain and former Gov. Mike Huckabee.

When the Christmas campaign hiatus is over, we will be closing in on both Iowa and New Hampshire. These are key days, since there is now every indication these early-voting states will be highly significant in the eventual outcome.


I've often expressed admiration for the writing of Jill Leovy in the Los Angeles Times. Last week, Leovy, as is often the case with her remarkably sensitive accounts of crime in minority neighborhoods of South Los Angeles, was initially kept out of the print edition and relegated to an online blog, in reporting on the murder ot Timothy Johnson, a 37-year-old African-American, also known by the nickname "Sinister," on Nov. 25 on East 92nd St. in Watts.

In this case, the readership rebelled. More than 100 people sent comments to the Times on the murder, and a significant share of them identified Johnson as a killer himself, who had finally gotten the retribution he deserved. Sort of like "the executioner was executed today."

The L.A. Times, to its credit, ran as the lead story in Sunday's Opinion section, a selection of the e-mails and letters on Johnson's murder, with introductions by Leovy, identifying Johnson as having been connected by Los Angeles police to four murders. This was a good call by Opinion editor Nick Goldberg.

Leovy, I have a sneaking suspicion, will one day win a Pulitzer Prize for her reporting of crime in the minority communities. She is one of the finest members of the Times staff, and often, it seems, under-appreciated.

The lead story in the Times today, by Richard Winton and Hector Becerra, reports that the city of Los Angeles looks on track this year to have less than 400 homicides for the first time in nearly 40 years. Murders have dropped off to only about a third of the number in 1992, a tribute to the efforts of the often-maligned Los Angeles Police Department, but perhaps also reflective of heartening social trends.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Time Mag. Revives, Choosing Putin Man of the Year

Time magazine is back in the traditional groove with its selection of Russian President Vladimir Putin as its "Person of the Year."

In recent years, Time has strayed off course, away from the old standard of choosing some one who, for better or worse, has had the most influence on the world in the year just passing. Last year, it struck a new low with its selection of an amorphous "You" as its Person of the Year. This had an unclear meaning and represented a sorry trend manifest at the magazine since Sept. 11, 2001, an inability to come to grips with the politically incorrect rational choice of Osama bin Laden or some other Arab terrorist as its Person of the Year for 2001 or any of the following years.

There could have been other choices than Putin this year, including two of Time's runners up -- Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Vice President Al Gore, or Chinese leader Hu Jintao. But Time makes a rational case for choosing Putin, and it is fortunate that the choice is punctuated with a scintillating interview the Time editors had with the Russian president in his dacha outside Moscow. The event included a dinner that Putin, perhaps annoyed with some of the questions, cut off early. Still, the Time contingent had three and a half hours with him. Without that meeting, this issue would not nearly have been the success it is.

Putin comes across, as he usually does, as a blunt and sly, if occasionally honest, man. Perhaps, the best exchange, was this one:

Q--"Can you tell us more about Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev?"

A--"They moved toward destruction of the system that no longer could sustain the Soviet people. I'm not sure I could have had the guts to do that myself. This is a very important change. It gave Russia her freedom."

It is also illuminating that Putin has divorced himself so clearly from Godless communism, saying that he has read the Bible and keeps a copy on his plane.

The Russian-focused issue also includes a vehicular trip through the heart of Russia from Moscow to St. Petersburg, a fascinating graphic on the relationship between Russia and China and a less fascinating interview with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

I particularly liked the fact that Time, which had a ridiculous issue a year ago predicting, with boundless inaccuracy, that President Bush would reverse his Iraq war policy and bug out of Iraq, kept its head this time, and treated Putin and the whole Russian subject realistically. In short, it didn't reach any empty or facile judgments about him, or the character of the government he has brought to Russia. It clearly recognized that regardless of this government's undemocratic aspects, it has the support of a massive majority of the Russian people and has had numerous economic and other successes, restoring that country to its old sense of self, before the Leninist-Marxists ruined everything.

Managing editor Richard Stengel, writing a letter to readers about the choice of Putin, explained, "I believe individuals can and do change the course of history, but it's often hard to tease out one person's vision and influence from the hurly-burly of events.

"Vladimir Putin made that task easier. With an iron will--and at significant cost to the principles that free nations prize--Putin has brought Russia back as a world power. It was his year."

Stengel also wrote that he was impressed that unlike most politicians Putin, who granted the interview at the last moment, showed no indication that he cared whether Time's editors liked him or not.

The interview is quite revealing of the celebrated Putin's hard-headed attitude and his determination to steer Russia on its own path, independent of and critical of Western influences, while not breaking Russia off completely either from President Bush, the U.S. or other Western powers.

This is a long issue, requiring more than two hours just to read the Russian portions. One of the most intriguing parts is the bare bones recital of Putin's rise to power, without any pretensions that the Time editors quite understand it. That history in the still often closed Russian government will only be written after many years.

Another intriguing part is the graphic representation of where the population resides in both Russia and China. It not only is evident that China has many times (more than six times) the population of Russia, but it's striking that virtually the entire Russian population is far from China, west of the Ural mountains marking the boundary between Europe and Asia. The vast reaches of Siberia, adjacent to Mongolia and China, are virtually empty, perhaps foreshadowing a conflict between a rising China and Russia as to control of that space.

As a long time Time reader who has been somewhat disaffected with the magazine in recent months, as a loss of advertising dictated smaller issues, with less sweep of coverage and even smaller print, I was delighted to see that Time, as in the days of Henry Luce, can still bring off the kind of sweeping analysis and descriptions featured in this issue. It is truly a tour-de-force.

One can only say congratulations to Time's staff and best wishes for many happy returns of such an effort as we see this week.


We all must certainly wish Kevin Roderick a speedy recovery and a return of his invaluable Web production, LA Observed. We've become used to his spare but revealing accounting of what is going on, especially in Los Angeles journalism. The sooner he is back in the saddle, the better.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

McCain May Be Back In The Presidential Race

On the basis of a number of prestigeous endorsements, and on the coincidence of a decline in the strength of another security-oriented candidate, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the senator from Arizona, John McCain, may be reemerging as a key candidate with a chance for the Republican Presidential nomination.

McCain, 71, is showing well now in polls taken both in the national GOP contest, where he is bunched at the top with former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Giuliani. In New Hampshire, McCain too is close to the top, with a chance to get a substantial number of independent primary votes that could put him in the lead, as they did in that early-voting state in the year 2000.

McCain is not as strong in Iowa, where Huckabee has surged to the top of the GOP race, and where the Arizonan's relatively progressive stand on immigration issues may not be very popular.

But still the Iowa caucus result Jan. 3 could help McCain in New Hampshire five days later. A Huckabee victory in Iowa could significantly weaken Romney in New Hampshire and allow McCain to sneak in to the victory. Until recently, Romney had strong leads in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

The Iowa Democratic vote could also have significant effect on the disposition of the independent vote in New Hampshire, a state where voters can choose which party to vote for on primary election day.

There has been a good deal of speculation that this very large independent vote could go either to Sen. Barack Obama or McCain. If Obama was to defeat Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucuses, which now appears quite possible, then, the theory goes, he would carry momentum into New Hampshire and win the preponderance of the independent vote. But if Obama were to fall short in Iowa, then the independent vote might well go to McCain.

McCain has recently won the endorsements of both the Manchester Union-Leader, New Hamphire's largest newspaper, and the Boston Globe, which has substantial circulation in New Hampshire. (McCain also won the endorsement of the Des Moines Register in Iowa, and, recently, the backing of independent Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, possibly an important signal to other independents).

It was the New York Times columnist, David Brooks, who wrote months ago, when it appeared the Iraq war was not going well, and McCain was one of the few senators avidly in favor of the "surge" of new American troops into Iraq ordered by President Bush, that by the time the election rolled around the Iraq issue might look different.

Now, with the war going much better, and the "surge" apparently working, it does look different. It has lost its edge, and, yet, McCain may have gained traction as a man who turns out to have been right on the war, at least in the view of a majority of Republicans.

Also, the rest of the Republican field has not distinguished itself. Romney and Giuliani seem to have fallen, Giuliani because of the Kerik affair and other personal issues, questions are arising about Huckabee now that he has reached the top tier, and former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee has not proved to be a very vigorous campaigner.

In these circumstances, with his great name identification, and his undoubted strength of character, McCain is looking better. He has a chance, which he did not appear to have much of just a few weeks ago.

McCain is also being helped by pictures, such as showing the great warrior and former Vietnam prisoner of war, being greeted by other veterans. He is a classic war hero, and that is never a bad thing in the Republican primaries.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Zell Cuts Hiller Some Slack, At Least For Now

Peter Ueberroth, head of the 1984 Olympics effort in Los Angeles, used to say that authority has to be 80% taken, that it is only 20% given. Authority, in other words, comes as it is self-asserted. Ueberroth was successful as president of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee because he did that.

His comment about authority is pertinent today apropos of statements made by Sam Zell in his first day as full owner of the Tribune Co., about David Hiller, for the past year publisher of the L.A. Times. Zell is quoted in an article by James Rainey today as saying that he intends to leave Hiller in place. He called him "a terrific leader." Also, he said, editor James O'Shea, also appointed last year, will be left in place. Both men, according to this and other statements by Zell, will get more power and be held more accountable than in the past.

Always, with the past policy of centralized authority in the Tribune Co., Chicago executives have called the tune in Los Angeles, and Hiller and O'Shea have given appearances of being on a short leash. They maintained their ties to their Chicago origins, and Hiller's statements in particular so closely paralleled statements issued by publishers of other Tribune newspapers that it was apparent they had either been written or extensively coordinated by the Chicago headquarters.

So, will this change now? In his first statements yesterday as owner, Zell said it will.

But I strongly suspect that the new owner, and new board of directors -- a seven-member body that includes two Westerners -- will be watching carefully to see how Hiller and O'Shea actually do in the next few months in Los Angeles. If they do not appear to be grabbing hold and becoming innovative, they will probably be replaced. And the words used by Zell, "held accountable," may simply mean they are free to devise ways to improve revenue, and if they don't, they'll be out.

O'Shea is nearing the normal retirement age. He won't be around for a long time. But Hiller could be, if he takes the ball and runs with it.

So far, it has been hard to tell whether what Hiller said recently -- for instance about rolling back Times circulation to include a smaller area around Los Angeles -- represented his own views or those of the unlamented and now departed CEO, Dennis FitzSimons. When, for example, Hiller announced his plan to place ads on the front page of the L.A. Times, the same announcement came as regards other Tribune papers in Florida and elsewhere.

Now, if Zell is to be believed, we may hear more about what Hiller really thinks, and what his plans are. But if we don't, I think he will not last long in the new Tribune order.

Zell's appointment of a new board ends the dominance of the old board, which was mostly composed of insular Chicago businessmen. Already, while the new board will probably be under Zell's control, there are signs it is much less insular.

From the standpoint of the L.A. Times, it is particularly interesting that one business executive from Los Angeles and one from Las Vegas have been named to the board. The Los Angeleno is Jeffrey S. Berg, 60, chairman and chief executive of International Creative Management, a Hollywood talent agency with prominent clients, and Brian Greenspun, owner of the Las Vegas Sun and son of the well-known Hank Greenspun. Greenspun, Zell revealed, has a minority investment in Zell's commitment of $315 million to the new, privatized Tribune Co.

It is obvious that one thing to watch is whether Greenspun comes to have a role in the management of the L.A. Times.

But there is a good deal to watch besides. Zell continues to say he will not assert his own views in writing editorials. Again this morning, the copious L.A. Times stories about the new ownership do not even mention that Zell is Jewish, a supporter of Israel and a conservative Republican. Will his hands-off approach continue to be the case or not? We'll have to watch what he does, not what he says.

For the time being, though, those of us who are interested outside observers, have to cut Zell some slack ourselves. He has been highly successful in life, and, as Hiller said yesterday, it's encouraging that such a successful entrepreneur is a believer in the future of the newspaper business.


Developments in Los Angeles sports are depressing. The ignorant and insular Coliseum Commission continues to stall, as it has so often in the past, on its talks with a major tenant over the future, in this case USC. The commission has no resources of its own to renovate the Coliseum. It simply must give way to USC. Meanwhile, UCLA is muddling along in its search for a new football coach, interviewing mediocrities, and the Los Angeles Dodgers have shown once again they just don't get it, signing a player named just last week as having taken illicit steroid body building materials. The city, meanwhile, is left without a guaranteed stadium for USC to play in, a guaranteed coach for the other major school, and guaranteed integrity for its professional baseball team.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Zell's First Big Move Is A Sign Of Flamboyance

The L.A. Times has been covering its own tribulations quite well, much better than most newspapers would in the same circumstances, and that is manifest this morning in the Business section story by Tom Mulligan and Michael Hiltzik reporting on new Tribune Co. owner Sam Zell's first major move now that he is taking charge.

In a most colorful story, Mulligan and Hiltzik depict the career of Randy Michaels, 55, former chief executive of the Clear Channel stations, who Zell is bringing in to focus on Tribune's two dozen television stations and interactive enterprises. The two men have had a long association.

Michaels is described as a brash and innovative thinker, with a record of at least occasional flamboyance, as in the time he pretended on the air to puree a green frog which was the mascot for a rival station, asking the audience, "What is green and goes 100 miles an hour?" Like Zell, Michaels is highly informal, by no means a conventional thinker.

Michaels built Clear Channel Communications into a 1,200-station network before being demoted in 2002 for perhaps offending some of his colleagues and not being part of the Clear Channel controlling family.

Zell's desire to take control of Tribune properties with a "hands-on" approach is said in the story to have marked six to eight weeks of conversations he had with Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons, during which time FitzSimons, not a particularly fast thinker, apparently got the idea he wanted him to leave, as he now is doing.

(I did FitzSimons an injustice yesterday in saying he had a severance package of $40 million. As a New York Times story by Richard Perez-Pena reports this morning, it is actually $19 million, with another $19 million derived from the sale of stock, restricted stock grants and stock options FitzSimons was already holding. I have corrected the figures in yesterday's blog, and regret the error. FitzSimons is still getting an excellent departure deal, but it does not bear comparision with the reported $100 million plus that Mark Willes got when he was ousted as CEO of Times-Mirror at the time it was sold from under him by a financial officer to the Tribune Co. ).

Whether Zell's initial period as new CEO of Tribune Co. is going to be reminiscent of Franklin D. Roosevelt's first 100 days in office in the heart of the Depressi0n in 1933 is, of course, unknown at this point. Zell is very closemouthed about his specific plans. But like Roosevelt, he is taking conrol at a time when neither the banks nor outside observers are at all sanguine about the future of the enterprise.

But arighting Tribune, after the disasters -- revenue losses and demoralizing conflicts of recent years -- cannot be the work of a timid man, and there is no sign Zell is one. Neither, of course, was Roosevelt. Let's hope Tribune Co. benefits as much as the USA did in the 1930s.

I confess I have high expectations for the "New Deal" at Tribune and am hopeful Zell will usher in a new period of dynamism and growth at the Tribune Co.'s largest newspaper property, the L.A. Times.

The staff is certainly watching. It is a brave staff that has stood up repeatedly in recent years for the newspaper's best interests against the insouciance of FitzSimons toward it and the state of California. Let's hope the new man satisfies the highest expectations.


A new Washington Post-ABC News poll this morning shows former Gov. Michael Huckabee building a sizable lead over former Gov. Mitt Romney in the campaign leading up to the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses. Yesterday, it also appeared that Sen. Barack Obama has a smaller lead over Sen. Hillary Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards, although polls in the Democratic race have differed, and the actual way of counting the caucus votes on the Democratic side could lead to a murky result.

Still, the apparent rise of Huckabee and Obama, the abrupt sinking of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and, to a lesser extent, Clinton, indicate a volatile political climate as the election year approaches. As Peter Wallsten pointed out in an intriguing analysis in yesterday's Los Angeles Times, the war has faded as an issue and the economy has come to the fore. This could change again, but for the moment it is benefitting the less establishment candidates.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Zell, About To Take Over, To Axe FitzSimons

Sam Zell, about to take over the Tribune Co., is making the first of a series of necessary moves. Three Tribune newspapers, the L.A. Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Baltimore Sun, all report today that the inept company CEO, Dennis FitzSimons, is on his way out. The L.A. Times story says possibly as soon as today. The Chicago Tribune story says maybe not for several days.

(It's now official. In a farewell message which did not quite approach the eloquence of George Washington's, FitzSimons says Zell will be CEO as soon as the deal closes and that he'll have wrapped up things and be gone by the end of the year. FitzSimons mentions a lot of corporate types, including Times publisher David Hiller, in a complimentary way -- a roster of those most instrumental in directing the Tribune Co. downhill).

FitzSimons, who I remarked in August of 2006 "might be better qualified to run a Chicago hot dog stand than the Tribune Co.," will reportedly get a $38 million severance package, including $19 million from the sale of stock, restricted stock grants and stock options. But it's worth it to get rid of a man who for more than four years ran the company into the ground. cutting costs incessantly, alienating readers, laying off employees, squabbling with the Chandler family, and assuming ever larger debt for the company. Tribune certainly could not stand another four years of steady revenue losses. Now, there is every sign that under Zell, the company will be in better hands.

The FitzSimons severance package proves again the adage that the more unsuccessful the corporate executive, the more he can take away with him when he leaves. Mark Willes, who was so unsuccessful at Times-Mirror that the whole company and almost all its properties were sold out from underneath him to Tribune by a financial officer, walked off with a reported $100 million or better, and he even took his office soft drinks with him.

I would hesitate to say these men were bad people, instead just contending that they should have been in different careers. They may have meant well, but they didn't know what they were doing. In FitzSimons' case, each of the steps he took that ended up diminishing the company, were meant to restore it to prosperity. FitzSimons just didn't understand that you have to invest in a company, you can't just pare it away to a shadow of its former self and expect all to improve. And he was limited by a disdain for California, the state where his immediate predecessors had purchased their largest newspaper, the Times. He was psychologically unable to come to grips with that opportunity. He let circulation drop by a third, while investing little or nothing for years in promotion. It drove Times editors up the wall.

If FitzSimons had lived in the 19th Century and heard that gold was discovered in California, he wouldn't have been willing to pay to rent a wagon to take him there. And at a time when Silicon Valley was setting new standards of prosperity for the whole country, in a part of California where the newspapers, the San Jose Mercury-News and the San Francisco Chronicle, were withering, he couldn't come to grips with the idea that demographics were mandating that the L.A. Times become a statewide newspaper.

Now, if he doesn't eat too much of the lousy Chicago food, FitzSimons, at 57, can look forward to a long happy life, perhaps on a ranch in Montana, which he will certainly now be able to afford. I just hope for his sake that he is willing to commit part of his severance to it. He's hardly going to be on the A-list of Chicago social invitees.

Putting him aside, into the trash bin of big business mediocrity, the question will soon arise what other immediate changes Zell, a real estate magnate who has been tremendously successful in life, but is new to the newspaper business, will make as he takes over the Tribune Co.

Certainly, appointing a new publisher and a new editor for the Los Angeles Times, and gettling new, ambitious expansion policies underway there, should be his greatest priorities. The present publisher and editor, David Hiller and James O'Shea, are Chicagoans who don't understand or even empathize with California. Hiller makes the same mistake that Amy Wilentz makes in her book, "I Feel Earthquakes More Often Than They Happen." He assumes that California is, most importantly, celebrities and concentrates on those. Like her, he forgets the state's natural beauty and its genius for leading the way (Silicon Valley and Caltech, Berkeley and Stanford, even more than the movies). Wilentz, if she stays around, may one day write a better, more friendly California book. I don't think Hiller is going to have time to revise his opinions.

Hiller's one laudable achievement was to begin improving the Times' Web site. Under its new Internet editor, Meredith Artley, it has been gaining both readers and advertising. The future of the newspaper business is very significantly on the Web.

(Already, today, Ed Padgett on his blog reports that the word in Chicago is that 40 corporate executives of Tribune will be leaving, and get a total severance package, approved some time ago by the board of directors, of $269 million. In another society, this would be called robbery. In America, it is routine).

Zell, who owns a mansion in Malibu and spends considerable time there, should find Californians to lead the Times. A good choice as editor might be Geoffrey Cowan, who has just stepped down as dean of the Annenberg school at USC, and a good choice as publisher might be either the former publisher who Tribune ousted, Jeff Johnson, or a Google executive who understands how to sell advertising. They would, initially, be able to improve both the editorial pages and the 2008 political coverage. They might even be able to stiffen the spine of political blog writers Don Frederick and Andrew Malcolm.

But I don't want to be too categorical or set up unnecessary hurdles. I recognize that Zell understands business, if not yet the newspaper business, far better than I do. I have confidence he will know what to do.


I was glad, but not terribly surprised, to read in the New York Times yesterday, in the Page 1 article on the subprime crisis by Edmund L. Andrews, that the leaders of the Northern California-based Greenlining Institute, John C. Gamboa and Robert L. Gnaizda, had warned then-Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan back in 2004 that mortgage lenders were running out of bounds, giving many unwise loans to people who would never be able to afford to pay them back, especially as adjustable rates zoomed. To his disgrace, Greenspan ignored them.

The Greenlining Institute is a multi-ethnic assembly of 35 minority, low income and community groups that work on housing and other issues of concern. I knew both Gamboa and Gnaizda well as a reporter of insurance issues for the Times, and came to admire them greatly. Had they been listened to on many issues, we would have a better society today.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Bustillo LAT Article Extols Sedition, Drug Running

The L.A. Times has seldom run as misconceived and destructive an article as yesterday's Page 1 piece by Houston bureau chief Miguel Bustillo on a small Latino village on the Texas side of the Rio Grande where the people, according to Bustillo, still oppose the results of the Mexican War and "seem more leery of newcomers such as the Border Patrol and the Minutemen than they are of illegal immigrants and drug runners."

I say at the outset this article is misconceived and destructive because it is highly doubtful that millions of Latino citizens of the United States agree with these villagers, who are outraged that the U.S. is planning to build a fence to keep out the illegals in their area.

All that Bustillo's article can effectively do is to build anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiment in the U.S. It is going to exacerbate every prejudice that exists.

I wonder what Bustillo's real sentiments are, and I wonder about the editors of the L.A. Times who decided to run such a wrongfully-provocative article. Bustillo, however, has done some good work in the past.

More and more in recent years, the L.A. Times does not exhibit good sense, either on its editorial pages, or in its choice of what can be run that will annoy and lose readers.

Of course, defenders of the Bustillo article will say that every point of view must be reflected in the pages of the newspapers. But I don't believe the New York Times or Washington Post would have run such an article. Its editors know better than that. The New York Times certainly is altogether more circumspect.

The village of Granjeno has but 400 residents, and appears to be on a main route by which thousands of illegals are crossing into the United States. There are 12 million of these already, and Congress cannot agree on what to do about them. Meanwhile, the issue of illegal immigration has become a major subject of debate in Iowa and other early-voting states.

Bustillo seems to have a gift for unnecessarily stirring up his readers.

What other goal could he have had when he quotes a man, Rey Anzaldua, 62, as saying, "We didn't come to the United States. The United States came to us?"

Horse shit! The Mexican War occurred 97 years before Anzaldua was born, and the fact is that after there was a rebellion in Texas, and the Mexican Army wiped out the Texas contingent at the Alamo, the U.S. decided to expand its boundaries, taking Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

The conquest was recognized in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican war, and the millions of Latinos who have come to the U.S. since then, came, not to undo the treaty, but in recognition of the fact that, for them, the U.S. is a far better place to live and earn a living than Mexico. (Some of these immigrants come from Central and South America and simply pass through Mexico).

As to the statement in this article that people in the village seem more leery of the Border Patrol than they do of drug runners, this does not say much of the people there. If they really believe this, their village should be razed, the people imprisoned as accomplices of the drug peddlers, or deported back to Mexico, where, presumably, they would be happier and could even obtain their drugs more easily.

And how about the suggestion that "some bureaucrat in Washington" is behind the idea to build a border fence. The fact is, the bureaucracy has resisted the idea, which comes from pressure in the public and Congress.

Meanwhile, the editors of the L.A. Times should beware of being dragged along by radicals and miscreants in disgraceful directions. They ought to edit, not just pass through junk.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Likability Not A Sure Guide As To Best President

It was clear in reading the article on former Gov. Mike Huckabee by Zev Chafets in yesterday's New York Times magazine that Huckabee for the most part is a likable candidate for President. So were two other small state governors who ended up president, Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992.

It does not follow, however, that likability is a sure guide as to whom will be the best president, and sometimes likability establishes itself only in time. Abraham Lincoln was considered an ugly "baboon" by many when he was elected president in 1860 with only 39% of the vote, the least proportion in American history. Yet Lincoln eventually came as close to being a secular God as anyone who has ever occupied the White House.

Carter turned out a more likable ex-president than president. He could not set priorities and he did not prove up to either handling inflation or the Iranian hostage takers. Many people liked Clinton, but I wonder, in the long run, whether Clinton will be considered even a near-great President. He let things like the health care issue slip through his fingers, and he underestimated the threat of terrorism. It took a long time before he seemed comfortable in foreign affairs.

Although, in his exhaustive examination of Huckabee, Chafets found he is personable, commendably conducting his so-far highly successful campaign on a shoestring, unlike other Republicans coming across as distinctly cool on the record of President Bush and being considered by many to have been a fairly good governor of Arkansas, Chafets reports he also may have a mean streak and, as governor, seems to have accepted about $150,000 in gifts. Yes, this is quite like some other Southern governors I knew as the L.A. Times Southern correspondent in the 1970s, and it means that while, likable, he is not entirely likable, and may not wear well in national politics.

Actually, one of the most striking things in Huckabee's record, besides his career as a Baptist preacher, is his blustering reaction when his scandal-ridden predecessor as governor, Jim Guy Tucker, first said he would resign after being indicted and hand over the office to Huckabee, but then reneged on his promise. Chafets reports, "When it became clear that garment-rending wouldn't get Tucker to go away quietly, Huckabee took direct action. He addressed the people in a statewide telecast, informing them that he was now in control; he threatened impeachment proceedings against Tucker; state troopers were mobilized to protect the capital. All this activity had the desired effect. Tucker re-resigned. In fact the whole affair was wrapped up by the 6 o'clock news."

Terrific, even likable. But Huckabee actually behaved here as if he were Pakistan's dictator, Pervez Musharaff. I wonder how such high handedness would go over in Washington if Huckabee were vice president, and he undertook to oust the President by what amounted to a coup d'etat.

Two bad signs about Huckabee include his almost total lack of knowledge on foreign affairs, and his recent criticism of the Mormon religion. I felt the latter was out of place, and unfair to Huckabee's apparent main Iowa opponent, former Gov. Mitt Romney. (although Romney flip flops so often on key issues, he is not entirely likable).

Actually, unlikability is perhaps a better guide to whom should not be president than likability is as to who should be.

Richard Nixon and the men around him, such as Bob Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, John Mitchell and Ron Zeigler, were not likable. In fact, I remember someone remarking, at the time of the Senate Watergate hearings that they were so ugly and evil looking that no one could possibly have any confidence in them. Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Mitchell all ended up in jail, and Mr. Nixon might well have ended up there too had President Gerald R. Ford not pardoned him.

Going beyond the Nixon Administration, here and abroad, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Torquemada and Dennis FitzSimons have not been likable, and you know how they did in their positions. (FitzSimons is not as reprehensible as the others here mentioned. He is not a bad man, just woefully incompetent).

One of the best stories in Sunday's Los Angeles Times was consumer columnist David Lazarus' article on Donald Trump. Now, there is someone who is not likable, enticing the poor and vulnerable in to hear sales pitches of dubious character. Lazarus is likable for going after him, but I would hesitate to say Lazarus is qualified to be president.

Also, Sen. Hillary Clinton is not entirely likable. but she may end up to be competent. That has not yet been established.

Choosing a president is not exactly a popularity contest. We need someone who may not be the most admirable personality around, but can do the job in an acceptable, competent, moral and shrewd manner.

Yesterday's New York Times also contained a fascinating graphic showing how often various issues had been mentioned in the presidential debates held thus far. Global warming was scarcely mentioned by any of the candidates, I imagine in part because the moderators didn't ask about it. That doesn't mean, however, that the next president may not be judged significantly by what he does on the global warming issue. The incompetence of the moderators, however, is a subject for another blog.


It is pleasing that the not always-likable King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has today pardoned the 19-year-old girl, who was subject to a gang rape and then sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in jail because she was in a car with a male friend who was a former fiance when the gang showed up. That was certainly the right thing to do. and it may even improve Saudi Arabia's general likability.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

World Tribunal, Tech Force Needed On Warming

A pitifully weak compromise on global warming was finally hammered out at the conference in Bali, but the United States prevailed on insisting that very little be done. In effect, the whole problem was shoved two years into the future, when the obstructionist Bush Administration will be a thing of the past.

Instead of setting desperately needed goals for a reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases by a certain date in the future, the delegates agreed only to consider doing so. The conference also called for such expedients as less deforestation and building seawalls.

But calls, not mandates, for action are not enough. Every year that passes with nothing effective being done endangers life on this planet as we know it. As Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, writes this morning, it is too late to put this problem off until later.

If the U.S. delegation had had its way, with its initial position, nothing would have been done. The delegation was shamed into accepting the weak language that was adopted only by the appearance of former Vice President Al Gore, saying bluntly the U.S. was being obstructionist, plus the boos and catcalls of various delegations who were fed up with the American recalcitrance.

No kudos go either to developing states, such as India, which insisted that since industrialized countries had caused global warming with their profligate use of energy, it was up to them to correct the problem. This head-in-the-sand approach ignores the fact that it is the huge new usage of energy by India and China, plus other developing states, that is compounding the greenhouse emissions problem, and helping to cause trend lines that point to an emergency.

It should be clear by now that unless the whole world works on this, the warming is going to grow, the Arctic and Antarctic ice caps will melt, vast land areas will be inundated, displacing millions of people, farm production of food will diminish, and, finally, if not enough is done, the warming could conceivably grow to such proportions as to endanger life on Earth. Nothing less than that may be at stake.

So we simply cannot afford the present course. What Bali really proved is that the present deliberations and filibustering cannot be allowed to continue.

Two steps, in my view, are needed NOW. One is creation of a world tribunal, with enforcement powers, modeled to some extent on the international war crimes tribunal that has been convened in The Hague, to set goals and policies. This tribunal must be given mandatory command of what individual states will be required to do.

Yes, this would be world government to some extent. But the time has come for it. As was said during the American Revolution, "we must all hang together, or. assuredly, we shall all hang separately."

Secondly, It seems to me, a worldwide scientific task force, funded by the major powers, must be organized to develop technological innovations that would definitively end global warming. Similar to the Manhattan Project that developed atomic weapons for the U.S. in World War II, this would have to be given priority in requisitioning funds and materials to accomplish this.

One idea that has been publicly floated is the placement of gigantic screens around the Earth to deflect some of the sunlight. Another is to mine materials believed to exist on the Moon, such as Helium-3, that could be rocketed to Earth in quantities sufficient for the use of fusion processes to provide the Earth with huge quantities of non emission-producing electric power, thus decreasing reliance on fossil fuels, the burning of which is a prime cause of global warming.

We don't yet have fusion up and working, and placement of screens around the world would be a superlatively difficult business (so as to get the right amount of deflection, and not spin the world into an ice age). The difficulties of these and other expedients are not to be underestimated.

But we need to be working on them. They may well be surer means of dealing with global warming than the kind of obfuscation and maneuvering we saw in Bali last week and the certain prospect that there will never be a universally-accepted consensus as to what to do.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Coliseum Commission Screws Up As Usual On SC

It is not at all surprising that the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission is screwing up once again as it tries to fashion a contract that will keep USC playing football at the stadium. Could we expect less with the likes of City Councilman Bernard Parks as its president?

Once again, we learn in the report by Sam Farmer in the L.A. Times yesterday that the commission has offered a contract to USC that neither cedes control of the stadium to the school, nor guarantees $100 million in desperately needed renovations.

This is the kind of stalling I used to see in 20 years of covering the commission, and it shows that the recent expressed wishes of Times columnist Bill Dwyre for a deal that would give USC much of what it wanted but retain ultimate control for the Coliseum Commission were not realistic.

During the time I covered the commission, the stubbornness and lawyer-advised stupidity of the tripartite body of city, county and state managed to lose the Raiders professional football franchise, just as it had lost so many other teams there and at the adjacent Sports Arena down through the years. At the same time, the commission failed to close several renovation deals.

The only time any sizable work was done on the Coliseum was after the 1994 Northridge earthquake when the stadium was severely damaged and the federal government came in and paid for more than $100 million of repairs.

Now, under Parks, like former presidents Richard Riordan and Alexander Hagen, the commission is blowing it once again, holding out for its bureaucratic perks rather than seeing to it that USC is done justice, and that the stadium is renovated.

USC, in exchange for control, would pay for the renovations. The commission has no other financial resources with which to do so, and its continuing hopes for the return of the National Football League to the Colisium, are very dim indeed. Any rational group of public officials would have given up on the NFL years ago.

Hoping that the commission will be able to reverse course and correct its own long record of fouling everything up, is about as realistic as to hope that under Bud Selig and players union chief Don Fehr, organized baseball will clean up its act, and put its steriod age in the past.

Now, if Mark Ridley-Thomas defeats Parks in next June's primary election for the open seat on the Board of Supervisors, the makeup of the commission might be altered for the better. But by that time. USC might well be forced to play elsewhere.

The Times, as usual, is being too understanding of incompetence. It needs to kick these commissioners in the rear, and keep kicking until they settle with USC on its terms.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Attacks On Obama, Romney Probably Not Accidents

Everything I learned in years of political reporting would seem to indicate that the religious and moral attacks that have occurred in the last week against the Obama and Romney candidacies were probably not from subordinates going off free lancing on their own, but from the top of the campaigns against them.

This is certainly true of former Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has personally questioned former Gov. Mitt Romney's Mormon religion. And it is very likely true of Sen. Hillary Clinton, who has had three campaign subordinates suggesting that Sen. Barack Obama either was a drug peddler or a Muslim.

Even though Huckabee has apologized for his anti-Mormon remarks about Romney, and even though Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign has seemingly forced the resignation of the subordinates who suggested Sen. Barack Obama is a Muslim or may have peddled cocaine more than just smoking it, it does not mean that Huckabee and Clinton can escape responsibility.

At the very moment that a top Clinton campaign staffer was telling about the co-chairman of Clinton's New Hampshire primary campaign, Bill Shaheen, brother of the state's former Democratic governor, resigning his position for raising drug questions against Obama, that staffer freely used the word "cocaine," to discuss Obama, as reporters covering the news conference noted. This amounts to throwing manure into the air and then complaining there is an odor of it.

Also, I am highly suspicious that the use by Clinton supporter Bob Kerrey of Obama's middle name, Hussein, is not accidental.

The fact is that as polls have indicated the Obama campaign surging in both the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, the Clinton campaign has gotten dirty. Clinton herself has raised questions about Obama's integrity. Now, at least three subordinates have stirred up dirt with false accusations or suggestions. They are throwing manure into the air, and Clinton's campaign is, it seems, protesting too much, spreading the allegations while criticizing them.

As Huckabee, a man prone in the past to make extreme remarks about both AIDS victims and homosexuals, has advanced in the polls against Romney, he has grown nastier. Romney, I think, is correct to complain that Huckabee's remark that Mormons might believe Jesus and Satan are brothers was certainly meant as a religious attack, and that it had no place in the campaign. To put it in context, we don't hear others saying that because another candidate is Christian, he believes Jesus rose from the dead or was a rabble rouser against the Romans.

All this talk about religion and drugs comes about clearly, I believe, because the Huckabee and Clinton campaigns are trying to sow doubts about Romney and Obama in races that are tight. It is reminiscent of Mayor Sam Yorty's suggestion in the 1969 Los Angeles mayoralty campaign that his challenger, Tom Bradley, was tied to black militants.

These are smears and nothing less. They tell us more about Huckabee and Clinton than they do about Romney and Obama.

Both Romney and Obama are candidates of change, and traditionally the way to oppose such candidates is to suggest that the change advocates are radicals who would completely upset the system.

In these cases, it is all baloney, and one can only hope that the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire are sophisticated enough to see the attacks for what they are.

We have less than three weeks now before Iowa is the first to vote, in the caucuses, and there have been quite a few stories this week suggesting that the Clinton camp is panicking. I believe it is, and it tells us once again that Clinton may be a brittle candidate, unready for the really big time of presidential campaigning or for leading the country from the White House.

Obama has acknowledged using cocaine and marijuana as a teenager, just as Bill Clinton acknowledged using marijuana and George W. Bush acknowledged excessive drinking, when they were young men. It doesn't mean that any of them are either drug addicts and alcoholics as grown men.

Similarly, Romney is a Mormon. There is nothing to suggest to serious individuals that this disqualifies him for the presidency.

As the mud flies, it is certainly appropriate to ask just where it is coming from. And the answer is clear, it is coming from Huckabee and the Clinton campaign.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

U.S. Obstructionist At Bali Global Warming Meeting

Al Gore, the former U.S. vice president and a Nobel Peace Prize winner this year for his work on global warming, said everything that had to be said today about the failure of the United Nations meeting in Bali to do anything meaningful to stem global warming.

"My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali," declared Gore, and all those who have closely watched this meeting would have to agree with him.

Yes, China and Japan were not very helpful either, but it was the United States that most firmly rejected the proposal that a policy be set to reduce global greenhouse emissions by 25% to 40% by 2020.

Actually, this in itself would not be an adequate response to the emergency the world now faces. It would slow, but not stop global warming which, according to a UN report issued this week, has caused the last 10 years of world climate to be the warmest on record, and very likely the warmest in the last 1,000 years.

The failure of the Bali meeting led environmental representatives from the European Union to say they would not attend a meeting suggested by the U.S. in Hawaii to further examine what to do. What a commentary it is that the EU has decided to boycott an American meeting! The fact is, no one has any faith that as long as George W. Bush is President of the U.S., there can be any progress on this issue. This is Mr. Bush at his worst. And, I fear, it will be our children and grandchildren who will pay a heavy price.

Time is passing, and the problem is growing worse. Not a week goes by now that there aren't reports of the consequences already being felt of climate change. Just this week, the New York Times carried a report that in Missouri, the warming is so pronounced already that the duck hunting season will have to be changed, because the date at which a freeze begins that sends the ducks further south has become noticeably later.

Of course, duck hunting and the future of polar bears, the question of whether there is going to be any summer ice in the Arctic ocean after 2012, are simply small signs of a catastrophe in the making -- rising sea levels inundating major cities, droughts, an advance of deserts, less agricultural production in large parts of the world -- unless something is done.

But the bullheaded Bush Administration, and such editorial pages as those of the Los Angeles Times -- stick their heads into the sand and ignore the bitter truth. As I remarked in a recent blog, the L.A. Times is suggesting halfway measures that constitute going after global warming with a flyswatter. In the LAT case, we have the numb skull publisher, David Hiller, a patsy to every foul business interest, to thank for the idiocy.

Gore, who flew from the Nobel award in Oslo to the Bali conference, expressed hope that the 2008 election will bring people to power in the U.S. that will end the U.S. obstructionism, but he said he could not be certain this would happen.

Last week, Sen. Barack Obama said he would, if elected, ask Gore to play a role in fashioning a different U.S. response. But global warming has thus far not been a major subject of the developing presidential campaign.

This is a crisis, and scientists have been thinking about broad technological solutions. But they are going to cost money and require sacrifice. It is depressing that the U.S. at present is determined to be part of the problem, not the solution. Frankly, it makes you wish Gore were running for President himself. He is behaving honorably in this situation. President Bush is not.


The New York Times had a lengthy story yesterday on steps that Rupert Murdoch has been taking to revamp the Wall Street Journal, even before he assumes full control. Already, he has changed senior editing and publishing positions, and has been approaching skillful reporters at other publications to come to the Journal. He has given signs that less skillful members of the Journal staff will have their employment terminated.

Quite a contrast with Sam Zell, who has apparently done virtually nothing yet, as he prepares to take over the Tribune Co. Certainly, he has not even hinted taking the first necessary step -- the relief of the executives who have caused disaster for the Tribune Co. and its newspapers by their policies of continual cutbacks and assumption of greater debt.

Zell has a lot to prove, and unfortunately so far he is not proving anything. Rather, he seems to be confirming the present CEO, Dennis FitzSimons' ineptitude.


Distasteful wrap-around ads again this morning disfigure the L.A. Times. They must be ripped off and thrown in the trash before one can read the California and Business sections. Again, the culprit is the lowlife Macy's Department store. The correct response would be to halt all shopping at Macy's during the holiday season.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Terror Attacks Strike Four Countries In 24 Hours

Written from Palm Springs, Calif.--

Lest we have felt any temptation in recent weeks to think that the necessity of the War on Terror is lessening, the last 24 hours should be enough to disabuse us of the notion.

Just since the beginning of yesterday, Dec. 11 (a number with particular fascination to the Al Qaeda death cult), there have been major terrorist attacks in four countries. In all four cases, the forces of fundamentalist Islam have proven their determination to strike at moderate Muslim and Western interests. As the White House said yesterday, these attacks are directed by "enemies of humanity." The only option we really have is to fight them. They are not susceptible to negotiations or sweet reason.

The first attack came in Algeria, and one of two bombs that exploded in Algiers was at the United Nations headquarters in that city. According to UN sources, 11 UN personnel were killed, in the worst attack against the international organization since the Baghdad bombing that killed the UN chief emissary to Iraq and many other UN workers in 2003. A second bomb exploded outside an Algerian government building. The overall death toll in this country, which has emerged as a leading moderate Muslim state, was at least 31, and responsibility for the outrage was claimed by the Al Qaeda organization in North Africa,. It was the latest of a series of Al Qaeda operations in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, all Muslim countries aligned more or less with the West. (The UN, then led by the weak and possibly corrupt Kofi Annan, quickly pulled all its personnel from Baghdad after the 2003 bombing. The new UN Secretary General, Ban-Ki-moon, is not such a weakling. He described the Algiers bombing as "base, indecent and unjustifiable by even the most barbarous of political standards," words that were precise and correct. He immediately made it plain the UN will not withdraw from Algeria).

Then, this morning, comes word of three other attacks -- in Lebanon, Iraq and Israel.

In Lebanon, we learn that Brig. Gen. Francois al-Hajj, chief operational commander of the Lebanese Army, has been assassinated. He directed the successful campaign earlier this year against the terrorist offshoot organization, Fatah al-Islam, in a Palestinian refugee camp outside the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. That group was virtually wiped out after weeks of fighting, but the situation in Lebanon as a whole remains foreboding with both Al Qaeda and the Hezbollah organization aligned with Syria and Iran continuing to seek the ouster of the pro-Western government of Prime Minister Fuad Sinoira. The assassination today of al-Hajj in a car bombing in a Beirut suburb is only the latest of many which have become the subject of an ongoing UN investigation. Evidence so far developed in this inquiry points to Syrian responsibility for assassinations such as today's. Meanwhile, just two days ago, election of a new Lebanese president was delayed for the eighth time.

In the city of Amara, Iraq, where British forces have recently been withdrawn, clearing the way for more intra-Shite strife, bombs exploded today that killed 27 persons. It is another reminder that despite gains in Iraq resulting from the "surge" of U.S. forces and the turning of Sunni sheiks to the American side, Iraq continues to be threatened by both ethnic strife and Al Qaeda.

Also today, the Israelis report that a barrage of 20 Kassem rockets have been fired out of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip at the Israeli city of Sderot and points in the Western Negev. The mayor of Sderot resigned today in protest against the failure of the Israeli government of Ehud Olmert to respond with a large enough military operation in Gaza to stop the continuing firing of rockets against Israeli territory. Again today, in the Jerusalem Post, there are contradictory reports as to whether Olmert will direct the Israeli Army to undertake a major strike at Hamas, which is increasingly in league with both Iranian and Al Qaeda elements. The Israelis sent a few tanks into southern Gaza today, killing five persons, but this will not be enough to dissuade the killers from their aggression.

The new trouble in the Holy Land comes just after, in a recent conference in Annapolis, Md., the Bush Administration sought to encourage a new round of Arab-Israeli peace talks. But it does not seem to me that peace talks can proceed when Arab terrorists continue to attack peaceful Israeli civilians with barrages of rockets.

The events of just the past 24 hours demonstrate the determination of the terrorists. On our side, we need to continue to try to destroy them. What less will suffice?


The Tribune Co. reports yet another revenue decline in the four weeks that ended Nov. 25. Publishing revenue is down against the same period a year ago 3.5%, from $428 million to $413 million, while advertising revenue is down 4.9%. Advertising revenues in some sectors, such as classified (a 26% decline) or real estate (39%) is literally collapsing.

We are still waiting for the final close of the deal under which Chicago real estate magnate and Malibu mansion owner Sam Zell is buying control of Tribune. But in the meantime, the inept CEO Dennis FitzSimons and his celebrity-loving L.A. Times publisher David Hiller, remain in commanding positions of responsibility. With all due regard to the subprime crisis and the changing newspaper business, new blood in these positions is necessary. Zell's work is cut out for him. He must realize that with failed corporate chieftains like FitzSimons and Hiller in charge, no corner can be turned.


Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's comments on Mormonism, reported as scheduled to appear in an article in the New York Times magazine this coming weekend, constitute the worst example of religious hatred in the developing 2008 campaign. His suggestion that Mormons believe that "Jesus and the devil are brothers" is a vile attack, designed to derail the candidacy of former Gov. Mitt Romney, the apparent chief competitor of Huckabee in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses. The fact that Huckabee later apologized does not excuse his hateful language and recklessness.

I have questioned Huckabee's qualifications to be president before. This statement in and of itself makes it clear he is unfit for the presidency.