Thursday, January 31, 2008

NYT Story Suggests Bill Clinton Took Huge Bribe

Why did the New York Times endorse Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination when it had a story in the works suggesting that her husband, former President Bill Clinton, took a huge bribe from a Canadian mining magnate in exchange for helping him to close a Kazakhstan uranium mining deal?

The lengthy story by Jo Becker and Don Van Natta, Jr. begins on Page 1 of the NYT today, and it tells how Bill Clinton flew in the private plane of the magnate Frank Giustra into Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Sept. 6, 2005 to join in the effort -- opposed by both the U.S. government and his wife, Hillary, by the way -- to enhance the respectability of Kazakh's dictator, Nursultan A. Nazurbayev, and obtain just two days later a uranium mining deal worth "tens of millions of dollars" to Giustra.

Then, just months later, Giustra secretly gave $31.3 million to Clinton's charitable foundation, and since then has publicly pledged to give $100 million more. Meanwhile, Nazurbayev has been made head of an international organization that monitors elections and supports democracy. The story details how Clinton's "enthusiastic" support of this travesty "undercut both American foreign policy and sharp criticism of Kazakhstan's poor human rights record by, among others, , Mr. Clinton's wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York."

When I suggested two days ago that Bill Clinton was s a "loose cannon" who needed to be reined in by his wife, I received a comment on the blog suggesting I was being unfair to the Clintons.

But the question is, and five days before a national primary that could make Hillary the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is certainly an appropriate time to ask it, is whether the United States can afford to put the Clintons back in the White House when Bill Clinton has been behaving like a big time mobster?

Could it be that the L.A. Times will follow up the New York Times endorsement -- which sickened some of that paper's most eminent columnists, including Frank Rich, Maureen Dowd and Nichoilas Kristof -- with a Clinton endorsement of its own?

Lordy, lordy, I hope not. The LAT endorsements for Tuesday's primary will come either Friday or Sunday.

Kristof raises the dynastic question in a column this morning in a column headlined, fittingly, "The Dynastic Question."

"In a presidential campaign that has involved battles over everything from Iraq to driver's licenses, one sweeping topic has gone curiously unexamined," Kristof writes. "Does it diminish American democracy if we keep the presidency in the same two families that have held it since 1989?

"If Hillary Rodham Clinton serves two terms, then for 28 years the presidency will have been held by a Bush or a Clinton. By that point, about 40% of Americans would have lived their entire lives under a president from one of these two families.

"Wouldn't that make our democracy seem a little, er. Pakistani?"

A damn good question, I'd say, particularly when there is evidence the husband of the new president would be a crook.

And the Kazakhstan caper is not his first. Who can forget, why should we forget, the sleazy pardons of criminals Like Marc Rich (no relation to either Frank Rich or me) that marked his last days as president?

It reminds me unhappily of the L.A. Times endorsement of Richard Nixon for reelection in 1972, when there was already gathering evidence that his administration was deeply corrupt.

This is why the stakes next Tuesday, and in the months ahead, are so great. Do we want this country mired in the scandals of the past, or do we want to move on to a new era, with new leadership?

That is why the candidacies of men like Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain are so encouraging. We cannot afford to pass over these opportunities to redeem and renew our democratic system. (I interrupted the editing of this blog to watch California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger endorse McCain for president. As I watched Schwarzenegger and McCain, joined by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, supporting environmental reform and, specifically doing something substantive to deal with global warming, I was impressed how more and more people are coming together for a new day in American government and world cooperation).

The bottom line this week, however, is that we don't need in Washington men like Bill Clinton. And we can't afford newspaper editors like Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times who fail to protect the public interest.


Congratulations to Janet Clayton, former Metro editor and editorial pages editor of the L.A. Times, upon being named president of the ThinkCare charitable organization, devoted to curing cancer, and sponsored by such organizations as the Los Angeles Dodgers, KCAL-Channel 9 and USC.

Clayton would have been an excellent choice to be new editor of the L.A. Times. But she may have been too much her own person, as fired editors Dean Baquet and James O'Shea were, for the tastes of the publisher, David Hiller. She is probably better off in her new job. All best wishes to her.

The latest word is that Hiller may name a new editor Friday. I'm not expecting he or she will be much. Let's hope Hiller, for once, rises to the occasion.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Edwards Drops Out, Possibly At The Wrong Time

Former Sen. John Edwards' populist campaign never really caught on. As a glib trial lawyer, with a $6 million home, $400 haircuts and a record of working for a hedge fund after leaving the Senate, he was not altogether believable in that role, and some of his fire was stolen in any event by another insurgent candidate, Sen. Barack Obama.

But the decision of Edwards to withdraw from the campaign today is, I think, too bad. Coming just six days before Super Tuesday, it deprives the electorate in 22 states from a third choice in the Democratic contest, and it may well help the establishment candidate in the race, Sen. Hillary Clinton, to withstand what had been a developing surge toward Obama.

The reason is that in a campaign which the Clintons have sporadically turned racial, Edwards, to the extent he got votes, was possibly taking some white votes away from Clinton. Now, before national sentiment in the presidential race has really crystalized, she has a better chance to wrap it up on Super Tuesday next week.

While Edwards was in the race, due to the Democratic commitment in many states to proportional delegate selection, it was more conceivable that together Obama and Edwards could have scraped together a coalition at the Democratic convention that would have stopped Clinton.

I don't underestimate the power and attractiveness of the Obama candidacy. And we'll see what happens in Thursday's debate and the days ahead, with the campaigning for Obama of the Kennedys and further consideration in the Latino communities as to where their interests truly lie. Obama has arguments -- on his stronger anti-war position and even on a stronger stand for immigration reform than Clinton, who has waffled on both matters -- but he could have been fortified to some extent with Edwards' still in the race.

In quitting, or, as he said, "suspending" his campaign, Edwards did not endorse either Obama or Clinton today. That is not really surprising, because Edwards has played a rather ambiguous role as regards favoring either Clinton or Obama. In the critical pre-New Hampshire primary debate, he seemed to side with Obama against the shrill attacks of Clinton. But his statement after the near-crying episode of Clinton in Portsmouth, N.H., he may actually have helped Clinton by too grossly depicting her as showing, by tearing up, that she was unfit for the presidfency. This created sympathy for Clinton, who squeaked through in New Hampshire with a two-point victory over Obama.

In any case, Edwards, the trial attorney, is not perhaps the most believable candidate. I'm not sure his endorsement would mean all that much to Obama, even if he were to get it.

On the Republican side, too, the narrowing of the field, with the withdrawal of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, tends, even though former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee remains as a candidate, to make it more of a two-man race between Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Despite Giuliani's endorsement of McCain, and the supposed uniting of the security-oriented vote behind McCain, I'm not sure Romney is out of it in the Republican race. He still has plenty of his own money, and the pitch he made in Florida for conservative votes may be more successful in some other states than it was in the more fractured field in Florida.

Romney is not well-liked by the other candidates, and for good reason. He has been on nearly every side of every issue. But conservative and evangelical antipathy to McCain remains powerful, and, as the sole impediment outside the Deep South to McCain's bid for the GOP nomination, Romney may yet make this a fight with an uncertain outcome. But don't think that the unscrupulous Clintons would not skillfully use anti-Mormon sentiments in a general election campaign against Romney, just as they will use age arguments against McCain and have used a barely-veiled racial pitch against Obama. The Clintons will do anything they feel they need to, to win.

My own position in these contests is clear. On Dec. 26, this blog endorsed Obama and McCain for their respective party nominations, viewing them as the most able and principled candidates. Nothing since then has occurred to alter my opnion. On the contrary, the increasing evidence that the Clintons are attempting a power grab, and the threat of a co-presidency if the Clintons are returned to the White House, have made my feelings even stronger.

There are a good many people, I think, who object vehemently to a restoration of Clinton rule in the White House, and they may now be forced to accept Obama as her only Democratic alternative, even if they were not for him before Edwards left the race.

Perhaps representative of this view is the editorial endorsing Obama that appeared today in Rupert Murdoch's New York Post. While disagreeing with Obama on many issues, the Post said he was preferable to Clinton.

"Obama represents a fresh start," the editorial said. "His opponent, and her husband, stand for deja vu all over again -- a return to the opportunistic, scandal-scarred, morally muddled years of the almost infinitely self-indulgent Clinton co-presidency.

"Does America really want to go through all that once again? It will -- if Sen. Clinton becomes president. That much has become painfully apparent.

"Bill Clinton's thuggishly self-centered campaign antics conjure so many bad, sad memories that it's hard to know where to begin. Suffice it to say that his Peck's-Bad-Boy smirk -- the Clinton trademark -- wore thin a long time ago. Far more to the point, Sen. Clinton could have reined him in at any time. But she chose not to -- which tells the nation all it needs to know about what a Clinton II presidency would be like."

The editorial said that while Obama "is not without flaws," he "has the ability to inspire. Again, we don't agree much with Obama on substantive issues. But many Democrats will. He should be their choice on Tuesday."

I'm rarely in agreement with Rupert Murdoch. But in this case, his newspaper is 100% right.


To the extent that McCain has made a comeback from early last year, when it seemed his candidacy had imploded, there was one newspaper columnist who more than any others always thought this was a possibility. That is David Brooks of the New York Times, who wrote a year ago that he thought McCain would very possibly make a comeback in the race. Brooks said then that the "surge" of troops President Bush had ordered in Iraq might succeed, and that, McCain, as the candidate most associated with it, could then come back. Turns out, he was right.

As for the failure of the Giuliani candidacy, which collapsed in weeks after he had held the lead in the polls for most of a year, it is true that it turned out to be a critical mistake for Giuliani to skip both Iowa and New Hampshire and put all his eggs on a later primary, Florida. But, also, Giuliani proved to be too one-dimensional a candiate, focused too much on his role in 9-11 to the exclusion of everything else. And when he did speak of 9-11 and the War on Terror, Giuliani seemed too strident. Many came to view him as possibly dangerous in foreign policy.

Also, the New York Times and others went after Giuliani on such personal issues as his third marriage, the way he had treated his former wives, and estrangement of his children, and his playing fast and loose with his consulting firm and some of his associations as mayor. In time, the criticisms eroded his standing. Those who said he could not build on his background to compete successfully nationwide turned out to have been correct.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Caging The Beast: Hillary Must Tame Bill Clinton

According to exit surveys, half of the white Democrats who decided at the last moment to back former Sen. John Edwards in the South Carolina Democratic primary came over from Sen. Hillary Clinton, possibly in revulsion against the racial innuendos of former President Bill Clinton.

Now, there are suggestions that the Clinton campaign is moving to tone Bill Clinton down. And it's about time. Since the end of the Iowa campaign, Bill Clinton has been a loose cannon on the deck. It has become ever clearer that he sees Hillary's candidacy as a bid to restore his own power in the White House. And if the two get there, there may be a power struggle -- between the two of them.

George Will writes this morning that poor Hillary has "been reduced to the role of surrogate speaking for her husband, the king across the water, restive for a Restoration with her tagging along." He adds, "Obama is running against two Clintons -- or one and a fraction of one, given how much she has been dismissed by her overbearing spouse."

Well, there are clearly some commentators who don't like Hillary, and aren't willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

But, still, it's become obvious that if Bill Clinton continues to show his temper on the stump, as he did all last week, Hillary may be in trouble. She runs the risk of reminding the voters of Lurline Wallace, George Wallace's milquetoast of a wife, who he foisted, for a term, on the people of Alabama as their governor, while George ran the show behind the scenes.

In the New York Times, yesterday, Patrick Healy had a fascinating article under the headline, "After Obama Victory, Clinton's Camp Seeks Gentler Role for Ex-President."

Rep. Charles Rangel, (D-New York), one of Hillary's major black backers, told Healy that Mr. Clinton was going to pull back.

"He's got to," Rangel said. "The focus has got to get back on Hillary. For all that he cares about his wife, this has to be her election to win, and it's become too much about his role."

Meanwhile, Linda L. Fowler, a professor of governor at Dartmouth, was quoted in the same article as saying she believed Bill Clinton had been hurting Hillary.

"Voters don't like the idea of a co-presidency," said Fowler, "and he became so high-profile that he made people begin to see this as a co-presidency. It's even more problematic because she's a woman. It looks like either she needs him to fight the big battles for her, or she can't keep the big dog on the porch."

And an aging dog at that. Clinton, now 61, like many people as they age, is showing more of his temperamental idiosyncrasies." He certainly lost his temper in Missouri the other night after the South Carolina returns came in when he compared Obama to Jesse Jackson, suggesting both were just black candidates with a black agenda.

Clinton is as vicious as that tiger in the San Francisco Zoo. But unlike with the tiger, the victim, in this case, Obama, has escaped the bites.

Still, it's been enough for the writer Toni Morrison, who came out Monday for Obama. And it was Morrison who had once given Clinton the title of "first black president." Now, he looks more like what he is -- a white Southerner.

Perhaps, Hillary simply has to have a little talk with Bill, explaining to him the lay of the land. Or perhaps she has to provide him with a distraction. How about another female intern? Not Monica, but a lookalike. After all, if Jacqueline Kennedy could ignore Judith Exner and Marilyn Monroe, Hillary can look the other way, at least until she can give Bill the boot out of the White House.

It may all end, all right, with a soap opera at the White House. After all, the Clintons have always aspired to attain the social respectability of L'll Abner's Dogpatch.


Monday, January 28, 2008

L.A. Times Faces Critical Endorsement Decisions

For the Los Angeles Times and its often discredited publisher, David Hiller, this week is shaping up as a critical one in trying to regain public esteem. After the California debates this week, the Times has vowed to endorse candidates in the presidential nominating contests.

The question of the hour is whether it will try to lead, or fall into the trap of following, public opinion in the state.

On the Democratic side, will it go along with the latest polls in California and ratify the power grab of the Clintons by endorsing Sen. Hillary Clinton? Or will it try to lead toward an idealistic reformer, Sen. Barack Obama? With the endorsements of Sen. Edward Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy, Obama may surge in California, and especially in the Latino and white working communities. Will the L.A. Times surf the rising tide, or fight it?

On the Republican side, will the Times go with the great flip-flopper, former Gov. Mitt Romney, who would, like the Clintons, say or do anything to win the presidency? Or will the newspaper go with a man of principle, the war hero and independently-minded senator, John McCain?

I wish I could be confident as to what these decisions will be. The Times had a friendly editorial about Obama's South Carolina victory this morning, but that just might have been tacking against an intention to endorse Clinton. I hope not.

With some exceptions, such as Peter Wallsten, Peter Nicholas and state political columnist George Skelton, Times political coverage of the campaign thus far has not been as distinguished as either the New York Times or, particularly, the Washington Post. Just this morning, Janet Hook has an article which, par for her, is pessimistic about the Obama campaign, unimpressed with the momentum for him coming out of his victory in last Saturday's South Carolina Democratic primary.

Mark Barabak, the Times' lead political writer, has produced mostly pedestrian coverage. When reporters at other newspapers, caught on to quick shifts, such as the evolution of the campaigns in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and then, the Kennedy endorsements, Barabak was mostly without a clue until after things happened. There has, however, been an improvement recently in the blogging by Don Frederick. He is catching on, and beginning to keep up.

But Times coverage of the presidential race in the California primary has so far been rather sparse. When you consider that this state can be decisive, and its choices can determine the nominees, this is surprising. The Times has hardly mentioned that independents can vote in the Democratic primary, potentially a major boost for Obama.

Most critical, certainly in the matter of this week's endorsements, is Hiller's position. It is finally up to him to decide on the endorsements, traditionally the prerogative of publishers. In this case, also, the new Tribune Co. owner, Sam Zell, has repeatedly said there would be local autonomy on editorial policy, and, at the L.A. Times, that means Hiller.

The Times editorial pages editor, Jim Newton, who authored a tremendous book about the life of the late chief justice of the Supreme Court and California governor, Earl Warren, is sensitive to the issues, and can be presumed as a backer of progressive causes. But he will have to do what Hiller tells him to do in the matter of endorsing presidential candidates.

Hiller has been, so far, a fairly poor fit for Los Angeles, a liberal city that actually voted for Sen. George McGovern against Richard Nixon in 1972. Hiller, at least in his earlier incarnations, in Washington and Chicago, was a rightwing Republican, known for his friendships with Ken Starr and Donald Rumsfeld and even an advocate of putting Haitian and Cuban refugees in concentration camps.

In short, he has been the kind of man who perhaps would have been all with former President Bill Clinton, when he tried, unsuccessfully, to play the race card in South Carolina last week against Obama.

But in the endorsements this week, Hiller has a chance to redeem himself with a more independent position. He can pick the candidates, McCain and Obama, who have, in their lives, exemplified the kind of character we need, more than ever, in the presidency.

It was striking last week that, when Obama came to the L.A. Times to meet with the editorial board, the usually idealistic Times staff gave him a rapturous reception. There is no question who the staff favors, and it is not an extension of rancorous, divisive government in Washington that the Clintons, like the Bushes, have come to represent.

This is going to be interesting.

Meanwhile, the biggest actual primary test this week is in the Republican race in Florida, and the indications are it will be a close battle between Romney and McCain, with former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani perhaps finishing his lagging campaign by running a poor third.

Romney, ever the demagogue, was making the absurd claim that his experience in Massachusetts, where he raised taxes and still allowed a huge deficit to develop, proves he would be better at managing the economy than McCain.

Hooey! McCain simply would hire good economists, if he were elected. He would certainly be better disciplined on the economy than Romney was as a governor.

There is also a Democratic primary in Florida, but the state defied the Democratic National Committee and moved up its primary. The DNC then stripped Florida of its delegates and there was supposed to be an agreement among the Democratic candidates not to campaign in Florida.

However, Clinton has been doing some campaigning there, and will be in the state tomorrow night, expecting to run first, and is already calling for a restoration of the Florida delegates. Like Richard Nixon before them, the Clintons will always do whatever they can to win, no matter if it violates prior agreements. They are already preparing for a credentials fight at the Democratic National Convention in Denver this summer.


Sen. Kennedy's speech today endorsing Obama was stirring, but no one should dismiss the significance too of Caroline Kennedy, last surviving child of John F. Kennedy and an inspirational figure in her own right. I notice that, despite the fact her Obama endorsement in the New York Times Sunday was played, rather obscurely, on the last page of the Week in Review section, it still drew the most hits on the Times Web site. In fact, three of the top 10 hits yesterday were the pro-Obama endorsement of Caroline, and pro-Obama columns by Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd. This may show the leanings of the New York Times readership. Although the paper endorsed Hillary Clinton recently, the readers have been moving toward Obama.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Can Obama Win On Super Tuesday? I Think So

When I read Caroline Kennedy's endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, my first thought was that the Obama campaign ought to bring her to Los Angeles and camp her in the barrio until Super Tuesday.

When Caroline's endorsement, appearing as an Op Ed page article in this morning's New York Times, is followed by that of her uncle, Sen. Ted Kennedy, as the New York Times is reporting will happen tomorrow at a rally at American University, they will be gold to the Obama campaign, especially in the Latino neighborhoods where Sen. Hillary Clinton has appeared strong.

The Boston Globe reported today that Ted Kennedy will campaign for Obama in California, New Jersey, Arizona and other states where there are large numbers of labor union members and Latinos, and that Caroline Kennedy will also appear with her uncle and Obama at American University tomorrow. (Within hours of the report of Kennedy's impending endorsement, Rep. Xavier Becerra, a leader of the Los Angeles Latino community and senior Latino in the House, announced for Obama).

But there is much more happening after Obama's big victory last night in South Carolina than the Kennedy endorsements, important as they are.

Is that cracking we hear this morning? Listen carefully. I believe it is the cracking of the Clintons' campaign to restore divisive leadership to the USA.

Oh, they are not ready to give up yet. Just last night in Missouri, Bill Clinton was comparing Obama's South Carolina victory to those won years ago by Jesse Jackson. The poor silly oaf. If Bill Clinton really believes that Obama's campaign is comparable to Jesse Jackson's, then he has lost his marbles. If he keep playing the race card like he did in South Carolina, Hillary' political fortunes are going to continue to nosedive. Doesn't she have either the smarts or the fortitude to order him to shut up?

Assuming that on Super Tuesday Obama's home state of Illinois is sure to support him, then Obama must concentrate on five states between now and Super Tuesday, Feb. 5 -- New York, New Jersey, California, Georgia and Alabama. In all, he should be able to make substantial inroads on the Clinton lead, and he may win some of those states.

California and New Jersey are among the states that permit independents to vote in the party primary of their choice, and Obama has done very well among independents.

The fact is, every time Obama speaks, he is gaining adherents. No one, not even Sen. John McCain, can hold a candle to his speaking ability. No one can inspire the American people like he can.

Too much, by far, is being made of Obama's 80% support among black South Carolina voters and 24% support among white voters. That preoccupation ignores two salient facts: Obama's 50% of the white vote in South Carolina aged 18 to 35, and the fact that former Sen. John Edwards drained away quite a few white votes.

If Edwards stays in the race, as he vows to do, then whatever votes he gets are going to come out of Clinton's hide.

Last night, while the news of South Carolina was reverberating around the country, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the most important paper in Missouri, another Super Tuesday state, was endorsing Obama and McCain for the respective party nominations. It is the latest example of a large move in the print press toward the two men of character in the race.

"This year, voters have the chance to turn the page on 28 years of contentious, greed-driven politics and move into a new era of possibilities," the Post-Dispatch said..

"Mr. Obama offers the greatest potential for truly transformative change. On the Republican side, Mr. McCain's independence and integrity have the clear edge in a flawed field."

Also important is the column in the New York Times today by Frank Rich, arguing that a Clinton candidacy in the fall would run thje risk of handing the race to the Republicans.

Rich, who generally knows what is going on, writes, notably, "Up until this moment, Hillary has successfully deflected rough questions about Bill by saying, 'I'm running on my own,' or, as she snapped at Barack Obama in the last debate, 'Well, I'm here, he's not.' This sleight of hand became officially inoperative once her husbabd becane a co-candidate, even to the point of taking over entirely when she vacated South Carolina last week. With 'two for the price of one back as the unabashed modus operandi, both Clintons are in play.

"For the Republicans, that means not just a double dose of the one steroid, Clinton hatred, that might yet restore their party's unity but also two fat targets..."

The apt headline on Rich's article was, "The Billary Road to Republican Victory."

Stay tuned. The next week is going to be one of the most exciting in American politics since Abraham Lincoln emerged in 1860.


Three skiers died from avalanches in the San Gabriel Mountains near Wrightwood over the weekend, and one of the finest stories in the Los Angeles Times this morning was one on avalanches and the struggle to be safe from them, by using new equipment, by Tami Abdollah.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Romney Advances In GOP Florida Campaign

The withdrawal from the race for the GOP presidential nomination of former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, and the decision of former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas to restrict his campaigning in Florida, in effect removes from the Florida equation the Southerners, and may have left former Gov. Mitt Romney in a stronger position than he appeared even last week.

The reasons are several fold. For one thing, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani continues to be present in the race, even if his chances of victory are greatly diminished, and Giuliani, to the extent he is successful, appeals to the same security-oriented votes that would otherwise go to Sen. John McCain.

Second, there had been speculation that when he got out Thompson would endorse McCain, but in the actual event he didn't.

Third, the trend toward the economy becoming a bigger, perhaps the decisive issue, in the presidential campaign favors Romney. He is a businessman who has much more experience and interest in economic issues than McCain, not only from his governorship but from the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

And fourth, Florida has changed. It is now the fourth most populous state in the Union, and its Northeastern transplants may tend to favor the former governor of Massachusetts than a senator from Arizona and his image as a free-speaking Westerner.

Some polls have been showing Romney leading McCain in Florida, and he is outspending McCain there. So, under these circumstances, I wonder whether Romney should not be considered the favorite in next Tuesday's primary.

McCain, of course, is making an appeal to the large military or ex-military population in Florida, he has some endorsements, such as Sen. Mel Martinez, from the Cuban community in the state, and he may inherit some of Huckabee's evangelicals who fear Romney as a Mormon. After all, McCain, even in a race in which Huckabee was making an effort, in South Carolina, still picked up a fair proportion of the evangelical vote.

Also, Saturday night, Florida's popular Republican governor Charles Crisp endorsed McCain. That may help him substantially.

Still, I tend to think Romney may get a boost toward Super Tuesday, the primaries in 22 states on Feb. 5, by winning Florida. McCain is the most admirable candidate for his tremendous character, but Florida is a pretty hardboiled state. It may not react positively to his character.

Despite the fact that he has become detested by McCain and the other Republican candidates, Romney has proven both his resilience in this race, and his willingness to spend his own fortune to be successful. At the moment, he has actually won more states than McCain -- Michigan, Wyoming and Nevada. McCain has won the primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

So, we'll see. Despite the failure of the polls, incidentally, to predict the winner of the Democratic primary in New Hampshire, I think they may be right about Obama winning today's Democratic race in South Carolina. As the Clintons and Sen. Barack Obama have sniped away at each other in that campaign, some white support may have drained away from Sen. Hillary Clinton to former Sen. John Edwards. For reasons stated yesterday, the Clinton may actually hope for a black bloc vote for Obama in South Carolina, because that could cause a certain backlash against Obama among white voiters on Super Tuesday.


The New York Times carried a short story in its Business section yesterday reporting that Rupert Murdoch, who had talked about opening the Wall Street Journal Web site to all comers free of charge, now is saying that much of the Web site's content will continue to only be available to paying subscribers.

Obviously, this represents a judgment that more can be raised from the Internet by a speciality paper like the Journal from both charging subscribers and selling advertising, than just by selling advertising, even though a free Web site would be more widely read.

This bears watching for its effect on other newspaper Web sites. Earlier, however, the New York Times moved to an entirely free Web site.


Friday, January 25, 2008

NYT Endorses Hillary, and Columbia State Obama

The New York Times' editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, was not my "Mistaken Journalist of the Year" in the year just concluded for nothing. In endorsing Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination this morning, the NYT, essentially, used the main Clinton campaign themes, that she has the experience and would be ready on Day One.

There were one or two tepid hints that Hillary and Bill Clinton ought to clean up their campaign act, but the editorial never could quite get around to saying that they should drop the kind of tactics Sam Yorty once used against Tom Bradley.

Rosenthal also endorsed Sen. John McCain for the Republican nomination, arguing mainly that he is the least bad of the Republicans. It was manifest in these editorials that if Clinton and McCain are indeed the nominees, the New York Times will be with Clinton.

The editorial in the Columbia (South Carolina) State endorsing Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination in advance of South Carolina's Saturday's Democratic primary, was far more thoughtful, and also better written. I'm going to quote from it here, because 2008 is too important an election year to settle for anyone but the best.

"Hillary Clinton has been a policy wonk most of her life," the State editorial says, "a trait she has carried into the U.S. Senate. As her debate performances have shown, she has intelligence and a deep understanding of many issues. Her efforts in New York focused first on learning her adopted state's issues in detail, and pursuing legislation that would not necessarily grab headlines.

"But we also have a good idea what a Clinton presidency would look like. The restoration of the Clintons to the White House would trigger a new wave of all-out political warfare. That is not all Bill and Hillary's fault. But it exists, whomever you blame, and cannot be ignored. Hillary Clinton doesn't pretend that it won't happen. She simply vows to persevere, in the hope that her side can win. Indeed, the Clintons' joint career in public life seems oriented toward securing victory and personal vindication.

"Sen. Obama's campaign is an argument for a more unifying style of leadership. In a time of great partisanship, he is careful to talk about winning over independents and even Republicans. He is harsh on the failures of the current administration -- and most of that critique well deserved. But he doesn't use his considerable rhetorical gifts to demonize Republicans. He's not neglecting his core values, he defends his progressive vision with vigorous integrity. But for him, American unity -- transcending party -- is a core value in itself.

"Can such unity be restored, in this poisonous political culture? Not unless that is a nominee's goal from the outset. It will be a difficult challenge for any candidate; but we wait in the hope that someone really will try. There is no other hope for rescuing our republic from the mire.

"Sen. Obama would also have the best chance to repair the damage to America's global reputation. A leader with his biography -- including his roots in Africa and his years growing up overseas -- could transform the world's view of America. He would seize that opportunity..."

Amen! It's too bad for America, Rosenthal can't change places with the editorial page editor at the State newspaper.

In other political commentary this morning, Darryll Fears has a good piece in the Washington Post on black resentment of Bill Clinton for playing the race card in the South Carolina campaign against Obama.

And Arnie Steinberg, a Republican campaign analyst, quotes Dick Morris as saying the Clintons are consciously trying to alienate black voters, so they can create a black bloc vote for Obama, which in turn might engender more white votes for Hillary on Super Tueday.

Sound farfetched? Not at all. Bill Clinton, in particular, is not so much "the first black President" as he is a white Southerner. This is par for the course in dishonorable Southern politics, which I covered years ago.


The murder this morning of Lebanon's top terror investigator, and the violent moves of Hamas to keep the Gaza-Egyptian border open, demonstrate once again the evils of fundamentalist Islam. Not until it is crushed can peace possibly come to the Middle East.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hiller Firing 2 Men Of Principle, Looks For A Fool

I'm in debt to blogger Mayrav Saar for having obtained a remarkable document in which L.A. Times "publisher," David Hiller tells what he is looking for in a new editor after firing two principled editors in just 14 months. The next one, apparently, will be a man he feels he can fire just as easily.

Hiller graduated from Harvard Law School, but not every Harvard grad is another Sen. Barack Obama. There are quite a few who are unskillful, unwise and greedy. Hiller has enlisted himself in this group. Plus, he is a nut case. He has advocated making the Chicago Tribune a tabloid, supported concentration camps for Haitian and Cuban refugees and is a buddy and admirer of Ken Starr and Donald Rumsfeld.

Hiller writes, notably, in his prospectus for an editor: "We need to communicate closely, Always tell me what you think, especially if you disagree. If we always agreed, we wouldn't need both of us. Don't be public when we disagree, unless we talk about it first, or unless it's your swan song."

Saar has added the word "ouch" as a comment to this.

But in a long, blathering description by Hiller of what the new editor should join him in accepting as the Times' future, there is one highly significant omission, and that is any commitment whatsoever, any mention even, of the Times' extensive network of foreign and national bureaus.

The "focus," he writes, should be "relentlessly serving our audience in Los Angeles and Southern California."

For a man who fired editor James O'Shea after telling him at a lunch that the Times had to become "smaller and smaller," the emphasis on local and no mention of national and foreign is ominous.

Hiller was sent to Los Angeles by Dennis FitzSimons, then CEO of the falling Tribune Co., to cut down the Times to size, Like many Chicagoans, his horizons do not extend to Washington or abroad. To them, Al Capone is an historic figure.

And, now, he is apparently beginning the second part of his mission: Get rid of the Times' great strengths, its coverage of the nation and the world, and retire to covering how the garbage is collected, mainly Southern California news.

And watch Times circulation diminish to 100,000, if that.

For we live in a complicated and dangerous world. Under David Hiller, an atomic bomb could explode in Los Angeles, and the paper wouldn't have the staff to tell citizens here (those remaining alive) the background of what had happened.

So I don't think he's right about the future of the newspaper, and no principled editor could possibly agree with him about it.

Here's a man who, while admirably expanding the paper's Web site, has also cut out TV Guide, folded Opinion and the Book Review into a single truncated section, added worthless glitz like Image, while diminishing both the news hole and news gathering, and slashed what little remains of suburban coverage.

I'm waiting with a sense of forboding to see just who will agree to become editor under the circumstances of Hiller's prospectus. No one we know, or wish well for, I hope.

No, there is one thing necessary for the good of the Times now, and that is to send this jerk back to Chicago, and get a new publisher, loyal at least to the best traditions of the Times, remembering Otis Chandler and Tom Johnson.

"Fatuous" and "a pain in the ass," is the generous way a retired Timesman described Hiller earlier this week. I'd only add the phrase, "clear and present danger."


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Gaza Hamas Terrorists Try To Break Israeli Siege

At least tens of thousands of people, some reports said as many as 350,000, from Gaza crossed into Egypt today after Hamas terrorists blew holes in and later toppled the Rafah border wall. It was an attempt to break the Israeli siege that had been designed to stop the firing of rockets into Israel.

The London Times reported that 17 explosions that brought down the wall followed months of undermining it by Hamas operatives using oxy-acetylene torches to weaken it.

The breach of the wall is dramatic for several reasons. One, the speckled Egyptian regime of President Hosni Mubarak is making no effort to stop the influx, despite having agreed with Israel earlier that the Rafah crossing would be closed. Second, while initial reports said the Gazans had gone on a buying spree and many were carting fuel, food and other goods back across the border into Gaza, it is virtually certain that some will try to stay in Egypt, and others will use the opportunity to smuggle more weapons into Gaza. Third, if the border opening works, the attacks on Israel cities near its border with Gaza will only increase.

As usual, there is every sign the United Nations will be counterproductive in dealing with these developments. A draft resolution in the U.N. Security Council, submitted by the Security Council chair, Libya, a barbaric Arab state, does not even mention the rocket attacks against Israeli citizens.

Hamas is going to have to be controlled, perhaps destroyed, if there is going to be peace on the Gaza-Israel border. And Egypt will have to be warned, perhaps restrained, from taking any actions which tend to support Hamas. Already, there are reports that Mubarak intends to keep the border between Gaza and Egypt open. Although some Israelis have suggested this would allow Israel to completely lock its border with Gaza and hand responsibility for supplying it entirely to the Egyptians, there is little or no evidence this would stop the Hamas attacks.

The weak Israeli regime of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has failed for months to take steps that would spare its citizens the rocket attacks. It is only in the last week that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered the Gaza border crossings from Israel closed to the shipment of goods, and even since then Israel has indicated it would let some goods through on a highly restricted basis.

The fact is, only unrelenting pressure by the Israelis stands a chance to get the rocket fire stopped. The number and sophistication of the rockets, and their range, has been increasing. Just last week, an Iranian-made rocket was fired into the Israeli city of Ashkelon from Gaza. Hamas, it has become apparent, is in a de facto alliance with the Iranian regime of murderous Islamic fanatics, just as Hezbollah is, across Israel's northern border with Lebanon.

Now that Hamas has succeeded in opening the Rafah crossing, the pressure on Israel to at last take decisive action will only increase. The Israelis must move now to prevent Gaza from becoming the main front of the Arab-Israeli conflict, with all that would imply for the disruption of Israeli life near Gaza.

Already, once again, such weak-kneed and hypocritical "human rights" organizations as Amnesty International have been calling for Israel to desist in its pressure and reopen the Gaza crossings, without, at the same time, insisting that the rocket firings cease.

Just imagine what would happen in this country were the instability in the Mexican border cities, the rebellion of the drug cartels, to increase and spill over into the U.S, affecting San Diego, El Paso and Laredo. If Amnesty International or any other "human rights" organization sought to dissuade the U.S. government from ordering the strongest military action, they would be repulsed as a subversive organization, which in many respects they are.

In the widening Gaza conflict, Israel must now take whatever action is needed to dominate the situation. If Olmert won't take that action, there must be a new Israeli prime minister who will.

I think it may be that Gaza will temporarily have to be reoccupied. If Egypt won't reclose its Gaza border, the Israeli Army is going to have to reclose it for them. If Hamas tries to fight these steps and retain its Gaza power, it ought to be removed from Gaza.

It has also become obvious that President Bush's attempt to push now for an Israeli-Arab settlement in other parts of the Palestinian territories is not timely.

The situation in the Holy Land is what it is in the rest of the Middle East. There is no alternative to war against the terrorists, no alternative to their complete destruction where ever these vipers raise their ugly heads.


Writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, Dean Starkman joins in the calls for new Tribune owner Sam Zell to reverse the stand he took backing David Hiller's firing of James O'Shea as editor of the Times. He reviews Zell's past business record and points out that policies he followed for a decentralization of his real estate investment company did not work out well in the past.

Within a few days, the L.A. Times is supposed to endorse candidates for both party presidential nominations in the Feb. 5 California primary. It is important for the Times' reputation in liberal Los Angeles that Zell insure that Hiller will not be the one making the choices. After all, Hiller's record is that of a right wing reactionary. A crony of Ken Starr and Donald Rumsfeld, he once went so far as to advocate setting up concentration camps for Haitian and Cuban refugees.

The destructive Mr. Hiller must be reined in before he kills off people or good ideas again.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Negative Outside Reaction To Hiller Purge

I love what normally restrained outsiders are saying about David Hiller's purge of James O'Shea, the third Los Angeles Times editor to lose his job in the last 30 months to the cost cutters and enemies of California who run the Tribune Co. They are waking up to what a loser this man is.

Kevin Roderick shed some of his customary inhibitions in expressing in LA Observed his understanding of the disaster that has befallen the Times since Hiller was sent here from Chicago to replace the fired publisher Jeff Johnson and can the distinguished editor who had had so much to do with winning multiple Pulitzer Prizes at the Times, Dean Baquet.

"If you add it up, as I did," Roderick declared, "the Los Angeles Times in less than a year has lost in abrupt fashion its editor, managing editor, Opinion editor, Metro editor, lead designer, top political columnist - Ron Brownstein, top science writer in Robert Lee Hotz, top black columnist in J.A. Adande, and its two most attractive bloggers in Bob Sipchen and Bob Salladay, plus much more. And that was supposed to be the year when the paper returned to making news for its journalism, not its drama."

The editor before Baquet, John Carroll, who was also in effect forced out, meanwhile declared that the instability at the L.A. Times "makes people cautious and worried. Cautious and worried people don't often produce the best journalism."

Rem Rieder in the American Journalism Review wrote that terminating O'Shea was "not too auspicious a start for the Sam Zell era at Tribune Co...

"Maybe, hold off on the Zellibrations...Whatever the back story, it is hardly a reassuring sign."

Rieder concluded, "It will be interesting to see who succeeds O'Shea. Some advice: rent, don't buy."

(There are reports today that Hiller may appoint either John Arthur or Russ Stanton as the new Times editor. Neither, however, is up to the standard of John Carroll or Dean Baquet, certainly, and the only apparent immediate advantage they would have over O'Shea is that at least they would stay in Los Angeles most of the time, instead of constantly returning home to Chicago to see their wives. If they want to prove at least their potential competence and integrity, they should stand clear of the editorship, because, if Hiller does the hiring, the new editor will be on the road to ultimate disgrace).

Editor and Publisher, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post all had skeptical articles about the events in Los Angeles. Howard Kurtz, the media critic at the Washington Post, said the Times was "in turmoil," and noted that, under Tribune Co., the newspaper's staff had gone from 1,200 to under 900, and its circulation from 1.1 million to 800,000.

"Chilling is the only word to describe the ouster of another top Los Angeles Times editor," wrote Body Politic columnist Joe Scott.

Others voicing concern were Times staff writer Stephanie Simon in St. Louis, former Times Washington bureau chief Jack Nelson, and retired Philadelphia Inquirer editor Gene Roberts.

And the anonymous reaction was worse. A retired Timesman called Hiller "fatuous" and "a pain in the ass."

Perhaps, as in the celebrated Orson Welles movie, "Citizen Kane," the key to understanding Hiller would be the word, "Rosebud." But "Rosebud," in this case, would not be a boyhood sled, but some Hollywood starlet Hiller may have met when he was out with Lindsay Lohan or one of the other celebrities he is obsessed with.

In another development today, Zell ordered all branches of the Tribune Co. to stop filtering the Internet for employees. Bravo! Now, maybe he will eventually take other steps to protect the interests of his employees, such as firing Hiller. I can't understand why Zell would have fired Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons immediately, and kept the man FitzSimons foisted on Los Angeles, Hiller, on the job.


The L.A. Times was not the only newspaper in Southern California to take a hit over the weekend. The Orange County Register announced that at the end of the month it will fold its Business section into the main news section every day of the week except Sunday, and drop almost all stock market quotations. The Register, with 284,000 daily circulation, is the largest paper in the country to drop its Business section.

This happens at a time, of course, when the economy has moved to the very top of national concerns. In the ignorant quarters of the Register, they haven't apparently absorbed that.


Monday, January 21, 2008

No One Should Become Editor Until Hiller Goes

Just as during the Saturday Night Massacre in the Watergate scandal, it should be recognized that no respectable replacement can possibly take the latest fired editor, James O'Shea's, place until David Hiller, the publisher of the L.A.Times, who did the firing, is relieved.

Hiller has now burned his bridges. He is so unsavory a figure that neither the city of Los Angeles, nor the long-suffering Times staff should put up with him any longer. The new owner of Tribune Co., Sam Zell, to save his own reputation, must get rid of him. Maybe, Zell doesn't know this yet, but, before he becomes senile, many people ought to tell him.

It is important too that neither John Arthur, nor anyone else, agree at this point to become editor until Zell makes a change of publishers. Why would Arthur, or anyone else, want to cast himself as Robert "Gestapo" Bork, the patsy to Nixon in the Watergate case? Hiller is another Nixon, just as unreliable.

Arthur already has disgraced himself by his observation, as quoted this morning, that the $4 million in new cost cuts the great chopper Hiller was insisting upon, and which O'Shea was resisting, would not greatly impair the paper.

This is bullshit, and perhaps Arthur had been smoking something when he said it. The cuts Hiller wants would mean cutting back on both presidential campaign and Olympic coverage in a year in which, due to the heavy news flow, the budget should be increased, not reduced.

Arthur should stop making idiotic statements and take the same stand O'Shea, Dean Baquet and John Carroll did. Any other position, and he will go down ultimately in disgrace, just as Bork did.

It simply cannot be business as usual at the Los Angeles Times until Zell is smoked out on what kind of newspapers he wants. Was he lying when he said he believed in investing in the future and not cutting costs incessantly, or wasn't he? Did Hiller act to get rid of O'Shea on his own, perhaps in the misguided belief he was saving his own skin, or didn't he?

If Zell was in on the latest beheading in the news room, then there is no chance he can possibly be successful at Tribune, because he would be following in the footsteps of the failed CEO before him, Dennis FitzSimons, whom he properly canned as soon as he took over.

Zell, was apparently out to confirm that, despite all his experience as a businessman, he is a damn fool when it comes to running newspapers, by issuing a statement today backing up Hiller, although he did not quite take direct responsibility for terminating O'Shea.

Zell said notably: "I've said loud and clear that I am returning control of my businesses to the people who run them. That means David Hiller has my full support. He carries direct responsibility for the staffing and financial success of the Los Angeles Times."

I'm still betting Zell will eventually reverse this position and take charge. But in the meantime, much further damage will be done. Zell is now deep in the corporate mud created by FitzSimons, Hiller and other Tribune executives in a company which hasn't done anything right in years. In placing his backing behind Hiller, he is placing it behind an inept businessman who doesn't understand, nor even support, California.

I will reserve my sympathies by the way for O'Shea. He never really took charge in the newsroom. He let the paper's investigative tradition, which brought five Pulitzer Prizes in one year under Carroll and Baquet, languish. He was absent for long visits back to Chicago, maybe to partake of the lousy food he was so used to. And when Hiller came at him with a hatchet, he did not openly enlist the backing of the staff and raise the flag of rebellion, as Baquet did. Goodbye to him, and good luck.

However, just having read O'Shea's farewell statement to the staff, I should freely acknowledge that nothing so became his 14-month tenure as editor as the grace and sound principle upon which he left the post.

Let me quote just one passage: "One thing that I want to put on the record, though, is that I disagree completely with the way that this company allocates resources to its newsroom, not just here but at Tribune newspapers all around the country. That system is at the core of any disagreement with David (Hiller). I think the current system relies too heavily on voodoo economics, and not enough on the creativity and resourcefulness of journalists...A dollar worth of smart investment is worth far more than a barrel of budget cuts."

Amen! From this farewell statement, we should also note that Hiller lied through his teeth yesterday when he insisted O'Shea had not been fired, but had simply been moved aside in the corporate transition.

I won't even wish Hiller good luck. As I quoted a good friend with long experience at the newspaper yesterday, he has always been a "fatuous" figure and a "pain in the ass." He introduced Page 1 ads at the Times. He was obsessed with celebrities and introduced glitzy sections at the expense of news gathering. He abandoned TV guide and combined the Opinion section with Book Review, to the detriment of both. He gave speeches to various communities in the city, only to sell out his own words the next day. Based on his squalid record, he does not deserve good luck. He is not a Californian. He is a greasy outsider.

Now, just as during the period between the Saturday Night Massacre and the Nixon resignation, we can only watch Hiller do further squirming. Since his days are numbered, his own incompetence ultimately dooms him, and he should be ousted now.

And let's move the corporate headquarters of Tribune to Los Angeles. The air may be better here than it is in Chicago. Certainly, Zell needs to be breathing fresher air.


Just watching tonight's Democratic debate, I was again impressed that Hillary Clinton is a shrieking harridan, a harpy unfit to be President of the United States. What the Clinton campaign is about is power for the Clintons, nothing more. Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain have higher goals, the good of the country. Let's hope one of them becomes president of the U.S.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Hiller Fires O'Shea, 3rd Editor To Go In 30 Months

BULLETIN -- James O'Shea today became the third editor in two and a half years to be forced out at the Los Angeles Times after reportedly resisting cutbacks at the paper. The person doing the firing was that dirty stinker, David Hiller, the dishonorable publisher. A friend of mine this afternoon with much experience at the Times described Hiller as "a pain in the ass," and "fatuous." I told him these terms did not catch the full depravity of the man.

The firing of O'Shea came after he resisted Hiller's demand that he cut both the news hole and $4 million from the editorial budget. Hiller reportedly felt the Times coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign was too extensive, (or at least his friend Ken Starr may have.)

Ironically, the firing came soon after the issuing of a new company employees' handbook in which the new Tribune Co. CEO, Sam Zell, called for employees to speak out on management issues.

O'Shea declined comment Sunday evening, saying he wished to consult his attorney first.

But one expense that Hiller may well find justified would be the erection of a guillotine in the city room. In the future, that would save time.

Now, back to the original subject of this blog, the race for the Republican presidential nomination:

The race for the Republican presidential nomination is so scrambled that former Gov. Mitt Romney, the man virtually counted out after his second straight loss in New Hampshire, may yet have a good chance.

The reason is the growing importance of the economy as an issue. Romney is the only one of the four principal Republican candidates with the experience to capitalize on that issue, and the one place where economic issues that were dominant to vote so far, the state of Michigan, went for Romney.

Remember that Romney was not only the governor of Massachusetts, a Northeastern industrialized state, but he was the successful manager of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, in fact rescued those Olympics after a scandal.

Coming out of the South Carolina primary yesterday, where Sen. John McCain won a narrow victory over former Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Romney actually ran fourth, the next major GOP contest is in the populous and politically fractured state of Florida, which will be the first state to be seriously contested by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Giuliani has performed very badly thus far, not getting many votes anywhere, and even running in most instances behind the mavarick Rep. Ron Paul. But there are large pockets of retired people transplanted from the Northeast in Florida, and a sizable Jewish community. Giuliani may have prospects there.

Taking it candidate by candidate, coming out of South Carolina, this is what we see:

McCain. The senator from Arizona has obviously crept back into the limelight of the GOP contest after initially losing much of his strength and even being strapped for cash. But he has two big problems. One, he is a security based candidate, has little economic experience or even interest, and terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, his strengths, have faded as issues. They could come back at any time, should there be some big terrorist attack, but for the time being it's the economy. Second, McCain draws much of his strength from independent voters who admire his honesty and strength of character. In both New Hampshire and South Carolina, both of which he won, his winning margins were derived from the independents. But in most of the states whose primaries lie just ahead, independents are not permitted to vote in the Republican primaries. This could put McCain at a disadvantage. Despite the fact that every GOP candidate who has won the South Carolina primary since 1980 has gone ahead to win the Republican nomination, South Carolina may not be so typical a GOP state this time. The fact that McCain has not clinched front-runner status even with his two primary victories can be seen in the decision reported this morning of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger not to endorse anyone in the Feb. 5 California Republican primary. Earlier, Schwarzenegger had been reported to be close to endorsing McCain.

Huckabee. The former governor from Arkansas had a clear plurality over McCain among evangelical voters in South Carolina, although he did not win all the evangelicals. But he has not demonstrated any capacity thus far for gaining many votes at all outside the evangelical communities. He may do well in some Southern primaries, he could even win many evangelicals in Florida, but evangelical voters are not sufficiently numerous or united in most states to give him the majority needed to nominate. Even if former Sen. Fred Thompson drops out of the race, as is now expected, Huckabee, caught in a four-man contest -- McCain, Huckabee, Romney and Giuliani -- probably cannot win the nomination. And some observers last night were saying he is not wearing particularly well in the campaign thus far.

Romney. He has won three states thus far -- Michigan, Wyoming and Nevada. But he was a disappoiinting second in both Iowa and New Hampshire, where he had done a lot of campaigning early and spent much money. He has acquired a reputation for flip-flopping on several issues, and his personality and his Mormon religion are in most places not assets. Despite all this, he has strength in a self-financed effort, he has shown staying power, and, as I remarked earlier, he is the only GOP candidate with much economic experience. For all these reasons, Romney must be considered still in the race and having much potential. He will pick up delegates in nearly every big state, and, since it is by no means clear that the GOP contest will be settled by the time of the convention, he would certainly be in the convention mix, if it comes to that. There may come a time, if the economy continues to tank and the stock market hit new lows, where Romney may look like the best candidate in the Republican field.

Giuliani. He is now handicapped by the submergence of the security issue in the campaign, and he has not been an impressive candidate thus far in any event. For months, he was the front-running GOP candidate in the polls. But he lost that position by the end of 2007, and he has, as said above, performed miserably in the states that have voted thus far. Even considering that security is not the issue it once was, Giuliani has not waged an imaginative campaign, and certain personal problems -- his three marriages, his estrangement from his children, and questions that have arisen even about his management of 9-11 -- are working against him. If he doesn't do well in Florida, his campaign may be on its last legs. But even so, Giuliani could pick up blocs of delegates in New York and New Jersey, and perhaps even fare well in California. He too could come to the convention with substantial delegate strength, assuming he remains in the race.

Thompson and Paul. Thompson has not proved to be a very hard working candidate, and, without stamina, presidential contests are not worth undertaking. He will not be in the race long. Paul is a maverick among Republican circles who may not have the sense to quit, but clearly can neither win nor be much of a factor at the convention.

Who will come out on top? I once would have said McCain, who at least is respected for his character. But now, it appears much too early to consider him the favorite.

The fact is that coming out of South Carolina, the GOP has no favorite.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Hillary Clinton for now has the momentum, but Sen. Barack Obama is not out of it yet, and could buttress his chances in a number oif states should he win South Carolina's Democratic primary, which will be held next Saturday. (However, I note that the able columnist David Broder gives Clinton for now a racial edge in South Carolina). Former Sen. John Edwards could help Obama, if he left the race and endorsed him, but there is, as yet, no clear sign he will do this. Clinton has fared well since nearly crying in New Hampshire, but if her husband, former President Bill Clinton, continues to lose his temper and say silly things that make him sound like a power-grabber, Hillary Clinton could yet stumble.

Today is Jan. 20. One year from today, George W. Bush's presidency will come to an end, according to the present schedule. For many Americans, that day cannot come too soon.


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Bush Flounders Around In Economic Crisis

Last July 23, I quoted Los Angeles Times Business writer Tom Petruno on the subprime mortgage crisis, and it reads today as among the most prescient writings yet on the economic troubles that have come to virtually dominate Washington and increasingly preoccupy the whole nation.

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

That same blog quoted Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, as making what then sounded as an extravagant prediction that the losses from the mortgage crisis could reach $100 billion. Now that seems like a low number. Last week, just two major financial institutions, Citibank and Merrill Lynch, reported new losses totaling about $20 billion, and the losses have spread all over the world. Just the New York Stock Exchange alone has started the year with the worst early January performance in its history. Meanwhile, consumer spending has tanked, stores are closing, and unemployment is rising.

Now, the latest development of importance is the threat to the solvency of bond insurers. If they should collapse, the subprime crisis will have metastisized into something bigger and even more threatening to the whole credit system.

As all these depressing developments have occurred, President George W. Bush has been wasting his time. He went on a week long and largely-pointless trip to the Middle East, where his tentatives looking forward to a settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute have been followed by an intensification of rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza, and new proof that the hapless Palestinian executive, Mahmoud Abbas, is both weak and useless. Not until when and if Hamas and the other extremists are destroyed in Gaza, Lebanon and other areas proximate to the Holy Land is there any chance to proceed with a settlement. In Saudi Arabia, Mr. Bush was received politely, but there was little indication of any positive results coming out of his visit. In short, the President should have stayed home.

But when he is home, his administration's attempts to deal with the economy have been just as much wasted effort.

Take his latest proposal -- for a $150 billion tax rebate for lower-income Americans, and other measures -- to supposedly give the economy "a shot in the arm." This would mean a $800 rebate for a single taxpayer or $1,600 for those filing jointly.

This, like the earlier proposal of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson for a bank fund to help rescue a minority of defaulting borrowers, is a halfway measure which promises little or nothing to resolve the present crisis.

Tax rebates are only a temporary measure, and their effects can only be temporary. Studies of past such moves indicate that most recipients simply use them to pay off existing bills and not to make new expenditures. Nothing short of a complete moratorium on mortgage payment increases, made retroactive about six months, can even hope to deal with the problems we face.

It will be said, immediately, of course, by Wall Street and the nation's financial institutions that this will be hard and unfair on them.

But the fact is that only major surgery -- big steps -- can possibly aright matters as they stand. The financial institutions are already losing billions of dollars, forcing them to go abroad in several cases for money from Arab and other unsavory interests.

In making loans by the millions to people who could not afford to repay them, and then selling bonds backed by these fraudulent mortgages all over the world, these financial institutions have done the country a terrible disservice, and now they must pay the price. By protecting the borrowers, perhaps some of the fundamentals of the present situation can be altered. the stock market arighted and consumer confidence restored. I'm afraid nothing less will accomplish very much.

If we had the British system of parliamentary democracy, Bush would have been forced to resign, and new, early elections would have been called, more than a year ago. Now, under the American system, we are going to have to wait for President Clinton or President Obama, most likely, to restore the economy. There is every prospect the policies of Mr. Bush and his lameduck administration will only compound the crisis. They simply are not up to the job.

And when something is done, it will also be necessary to fundamentally reform the Federal Reserve Board and bring it under new leadership. The board failed to adequately regulate the lending institutions, which it at least theoretically had the power to do, and the present board chairman, Bernanke. has proven to be always a buck late and a dollar short in dealing with the results of this earlier ineptitude.

It is very clear that the era of deregulation is going to have to be replaced by an era of new government regulation, so that greedy, irresponsible and plainly stupid financiers do not spin the economy into an even greater crisis.


The L.A. Times has an excellent Op-Ed piece today by historian Joseph J. Ellis pointing out that Sen. Barack Obama's campaign for a unified, nonpartisan approach in government directed at the wellbeing of the entire American people is profoundly in accord with the spirit and beliefs of the Founding Fathers of the Union, Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison.

Nothing could have been sillier this week than the criticism of Obama by Sen. Hillary Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards for having praised Ronald Reagan in some respects. This showed up both Clinton and Edwards as cheaply partisan. Their presidencies, if it came to that, would be a continuation of the bitter partisanship that has afflicted the nation in recent years. Obama's would not.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Clinton Sleaze Shows In Nevada Campaign

We are indeed fortunate that there is no primary campaign in Tijuana, because if there were, Hillary and Bill Clinton, seeking desperately to restore themselves to power, might be cottoning up to the drug cartel.

Is this excessive? I think not, when you look at the Clintons endorsing gambling and cottoning up to the gaming industry in advance of tomorrow's Nevada Caucuses.

That is the subject of a story today by Peter Wallsten and Peter Nicholas in the Los Angeles Times. The story points out that Sen. Barack Obama has pointed out the "moral and social cost" of gambling and its devastating effect on poor communities, and that when he was serving in the Illinois Legislature he voted against the extension of river boat gambling on the Mississippi.

What this shows is that the Clinton will pander, and Obama will not. The Clintons' stand Is a bald attempt to scare casino workers whose union has endorsed Obama from voting for him in the Caucuses.

And it may work. The Clintons, still sleazy on this tenth anniversary week of the advent of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, have been trying to have it both ways in Nevada. They implicitly backed a lawsuit that would have scrapped plans to hold Caucuses in nine casinos to make it easier for workers to attend. When a judge threw that out, then they emphasized their pro-gambling position.

Don't misunderstand me. Obama has not gone into Nevada and denounced gambling on every hand, and his position in Illinois was even somewhat nuanced. But at least he is too honest a man to make it seem he is for something when he's not.

We hear constantly from the Clintons, now that they are under pressure, that they stand for "change," and represent good, efficient government. But make no mistake, Obama is the candidate of clean, efficient government, of constructive change. He represents a new departure for the U.S., and a sensible electorate will surely prefer him to the Clintons. If they return to the White House, we won't know for certain just who is President, unless Hillary comes to her senses and finally throws him out.

While I'm discussing the gambling issue, and its ramifications for tomorrow's caucuses, I should add that I'm opposed to four measures on the Feb. 5 California ballot that would extend casino gambling in California and bring thousands of new slot machines to the state.

The measures are numbered 94, 95, 96 and 97. They are supported by the phony advocate of good government, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

We have more than enough gambling in California. Gambling, except for horse racing, which at least has sports aspects, is better left to Nevada, and to the California lottery. Its extension, regardless what it might mean for state revenues, is not, in my view, in the public interest.

This is not a new position for me. On May 6 of last year, this blog opposed a proposal to add 22,000 slot machines in California.


Tomorrow is also the date of the important South Carolina Republican primary. (The Democratic primary will be held a week later). The main test in South Carolina is between the candidacies of Sen. John McCain and former Gov. Mike Huckabee. A Fox poll out today shows McCain leading Huckabee, 27% to 20% with the other Republican candidates trailing.

The New York Times, Washington Post and L.A. Times all had articles yesterday on a renewal of the dirty anti-McCain tactics that defeated McCain in the 2000 South Carolina primary. This time, McCain is answering back to the scoundrels who are trying to portray his heroic service in Vietnam in a dark light, just as they smeared Sen. John Kerry on his war service in the 2004 election.

Particularly good in this vein was Matthew Mosk's article in yesterday's Washington Post. Mosk is the grandson of the late California State Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk, and after serving as the Post's statehouse correspondent in Annapolis, Md., has has been brought into Washington to cover primarily the monetary aspects of the 2008 presidential campaign.

The main thing, as I argued before the New Hampshire primary, in endorsing both the McCain and Obama candidacies, is that they are candidates of high character. The Clintons, and to a lesser extent, Huckabee, would represent a return to the feuds and extreme partisanship of the past.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

A California Soldier Killed In Iraq Comes Home

There was no story in the L.A. Times yesterday so touching, so appropriately emotional, as the one on the homecoming of the body of Army Sgt. David J. Hart, 22, of Lake View Terrace, who died in Balad of injuries received Jan. 8 while in combat in Iraq. Two of his fellow-soldiers also died as a result of the firefight with insurgents near Samarra.

The L.A. Times, which does a fine job in covering the dead from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, devoted both a front-page picture and then two in the California section to the ceremony for family and friends as Sgt. Hart arrived at the Long Beach Airport Tuesday afternoon.

Luis Sinco was the Times photographer. The story by Paloma Esquivel was a masterpiece, because it told with such gently-worded descriptions, of the grief of Sgt. Hart's family, his widow, his mother and father, and so many others, the military honor guard, the flag-flying veterans, even the ordinary airport employees, who were at the airport when Hart's flag-draped body arrived by private aircraft, along with an Army buddy. Pfc. Richard Gilbert, who accompanied the body home.

Sinco's main picture on Page 1 of the California section is a moving reflection of the grief of the Hart family. Who can look at that picture, without feeling tremendous sympathy for all of them? And Esquivel knows the power of spare, simple writing, not maudlin, to convey the emotion of the occasion.

"Freedom is not free," as has been said, and the sacrifices of those who volunteer for the U.S. Armed Forces must always command our admiration, always when they go, always as we support them with gift packages and messages when they are overseas, but, tragically, most of all when they are casualties in the conflict. Then, their bodies are brought home, to receive the homage they deserve, or, if they are wounded, they come home for treatment.

"Spirit that made those heroes dare to die and leave their children free," was the way that Ralph Waldo Emerson put it in his poem in 1837 at the dedication of the memorial at the Concord Bridge. He also wrote in hopes that "memory may their deed redeem, when like our sires, our sons, are gone."

The same is true today. We grieve with the loving relatives of Sgt. David Hart, and we honor his service, and his great sacrifice.

The L.A. Times, much more than the New York Times, devotes space, especially every week on Sundays to all those killed in the War on Terror, and, frequently, there are longer articles on Californians lost in the war. But there is a paragraph for everyone, telling who it was , where they were from, what military unit in which they served, and how they died.

I never fail to read carefully everything that is written. We were lucky in our family to be able to welcome home, with a gala family party, one of our family members who served in Fallouja. Our sympathies and greatest respects must always go to those who serve and do not come home alive.

Thanks, in this case, to Esquivel, to Sinco, and to the Times editors who so powerfully commemorated the homecoming of Sgt. Hart. His family will always lovingly remember him. May he rest in peace.


The estimable Molly Selvin writes a most interesting article in the Times' Business section about the new employee handbook at the Times distributed for the Tribune Co.'s new owner, Sam Zell, It uses just 3,663 words to say in a simpler, good-humored way what was said in 11,519 words in the old pre-Zell handbook, and was written by one of Zell's assistants, Randy Michaels.

According to Selvin, some lawyers think the new handbook is too simple, opening the company to lawsuits. But that remains to be seen. I like the new handbook much better than the old, in part because there is not so much legalese in it. Anyone who doesn't let lawyers command their lives is, in my view, to be lauded and not vilified. I've known good lawyers, but not too many. Most of them are nit-picking grinds, devoted to making life more miserable for themselves and everybody else.

I'm on the lookout these days for signs of how Zell intends to run the company. This is a good sign. His number one point makes eminent good sense: "Use your best judgment." The most important thing, though, is that, unlike past employee handbooks, this one is likely to be actually read by employees.

As Selvin writes, "In place of words like 'pursuant to,' 'required minimums,' and 'appropriate documentation,' the Zell model uses plain language -- and jokes."

But, as usual, a San Francisco attorney, Mark Schickman, tosses a wet blanket over everything. Selvin quotes Schickman as observing, "In an effort to be brief and funny, they've made a lot of mistakes."

Schickman is one of these attorneys who ought to be dumped in the Bay -- with the current running out under the Golden Gate.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Democrats Make Nice; Republicans Board Titanic

Everyone was so nice to each other at last night's Las Vegas Democratic candidates debate that it was evident racial jibes and incomplete appreciation of Sen. Hillary Clinton's likability have receded into the past, and the party can now go forth into the sunlit halls of harmony.

Far from merely finding Hillary "likable enough," as he foolishly did in the New Hampshire debate a week before, Sen. Barack Obama cast such a lustful look her way that, after the debate, Michelle Obama may have hit him over the head with her purse.

And why not? With the economy on the skids, Citibank going to Kuwait for a financial infusion to replace its subprime losses, Dow Jones down another 277 points for the day, new forboding reports of Islamic attacks from Thailand to Mauritania, and word that the U.S. is sending 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan, it's beginning to look, if it wasn't before, that there will be a Democratic landslide this November, even if it is a precedent-breaking Clinton-Obama ticket.

The only small spot on the Democratic horizon was the discovery that in last night's Michigan Democratic primary, only 22% of the black vote went for Clinton, while 73% went uncommitted. Obama was not on the ballot. But, presumably, the sharp unfriendlness in the black vote toward Hillary may have had something to do with the Clintons' suddenly remembering that same night that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had something to do with civil rights gains after all.

Now, Clinton and Obama can go merrily arm-in-arm to the barrios of East L.A. before the California primary, consuming tacos all the way. And moderator Bryan Williams can go with them. (He said at one point during last night's lovefest that he was in Los Angeles, when, in fact, he was in Las Vegas).

It will not even be much of a fight for the Democratic nomination, analyst Dick Morris wrote yesterday, unless former Sen. John Edwards does so badly in next week's South Carolina Democratic primary that he decides to quit the race and toss his support to Obama before the Feb . 5 superprimary day in 23 states.

On the Republican side, watching the frantic scramble for the GOP nomination -- three separate candidates, Mike Huckabee, John McCain and Mike Huckabee, winning the first three serious contests, in Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan -- reminds me of the scene of the two young men scrambling to catch the Titantic after winning tickets in a poker game for its maiden voyage. When they finally manage to run up the gangplank and board the ship, they congratulate themselves on what luck they've had.

Tne night the ship struck an iceburg a few days later, one of the "lucky" young men was crushed to death by a falling smokestack and the other drowned in the icy seas.

Figurately, this is apt to happen to the lucky cuss who wins the GOP nomination. The only prospective Republican candidate who wins many independent votes and creeps close to the Democrats in the matchups is McCain, who won very few votes from Republicans in last night's Michigan vote count.

Meanwhile, at the Democratic debate, the only vigorous exchange came over how fast we could withdraw our troops from Iraq. At a Democratic debate in New Hampshire a few months ago, all three leading Democratic candcidates, Clinton, Obama and Edwards, indicated they would still have some American troops in Iraq at the end of their first terms. No more. Now most all of them will be out within a year, they said Tuesday night, with the exception of perhaps 5,000 to protect the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, a few trainers and a reserve force in Kuwait to go after any Al Qaeda terrorists who may show up.

But when oil zooms to $300 a barrel, and Iran launches a missile attack against Israel, the new Democratic president may not look quite so good. All that's in the future though. No worry in 2008.


In one of the first big changes announced under new owner Sam Zell, the Chicago Tribune said that beginning Jan. 22, help wanted ads will be terminated in the print Classified sections on weekdays, with references only in the Tuesday Business section to online listings, and will run in full in the print edition only on Sundays. Business sections will go up by three or four pages on Tuesday. No word on whether this innovation will be coming to the L.A. Times.


The San Diego Union Tribune laid off 27 more employees, including five newsroom staffers, Tuesday afternoon, on top of 76 buyouts accepted since late December.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Al-Qaeda, Taliban Assassins Striking Widely

Yesterday's attack at the five-star Serena Hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan, was another instance of a spreading assassination campaign by Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Afghan security authorities have now identified the Pakistani-based terrorist, Siraj Haggani, as the instigator of this attack, which resulted in eight deaths at the hotel, including at least one American. The apparent target of the attack, the visiting Norwegian foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Stoere, was elsewhere in the hotel and escaped unhurt.

Just as in a celebrated past assassination, that of anti-Taliban fighter Ahmed Massoud, just before 9-11, by two terrorists disguised as journalists, the attackers used a disguise, with at least one dressed in the uniform of an Afghan police officer. At least one attacker gained entrance to the hotel lobby and started firing on guests.

The Benazir Bhutto assassination in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on Dec. 27 was, most likely, the act of Al-Qaeda or elements of the Pakistani government affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Also, there were bombings that killed at least 31 persons in Algiers, many of them United Nations employees, the recent murder of four French citizens vacationing in Mauritania, and there was an assassination attempt just today involving an American Embassy vehicle traveling north of Beirut, that killed at least 3 Lebanese citizens, including one employed by the Embassy, the first direct attack against U.S. diplomatic interests in Lebanon since the 1980s.

And, of course, this doesn't count the assassinations of innocents taking place virtually every day in Iraq -- in markets, hotels, Baghdad and Mosul neighborhoods and elsewhere. These have been repressed 60% by American military action, but continue to some extent.

Assassination is a characteristic operation of the Al-Qaeda and Taliban vipers, and it explains why there has to be such tight security when President Bush travels abroad, as he is to the Middle East this week, and even here at home of the presidential candidates. We cannot by any means presume that the terrorists would be above such possible attacks, as a means to interfere in the American election. They threaten assassinations of Westerners in numerous tapes and videos distributed throughout the world on Islamic Web sites, and even through such television networks as Al-Jazeera. In the wake of the new Kabul attack, the Taliban said today it will target restaurants in the Afghan capital frequented by Westerners.

It has become clear, meanwhile, that the Pakistani border areas adjacent to Afghanistan have become the new heartland of the terrorists. The weakened regime of dictator Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan has proved incapable of preventing the consolidation of this bastion, and, despite some intervention from time to time of American special forces, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and their allies continue to spread their power into populated areas of that country. Just today, in its lead story, the New York Times reports that Pakistan's intelligence agency has lost control of certain networks of extremists which it once had nurtured.

Recently, in a New Hampshire debate of Democratic presidential candidates, all three major contenders, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards, declared that if they were informed of the precise whereabouts of Osama bin Laden they would send in American forces to get him. This generated yet another statement by Musharraf warning against American incursions into the Pakistani borderlands.

It is clear, however, that the Democratic candidates have it right: If we locate bin Laden, we simply cannot afford to allow him to escape once again. American security trumps Pakistani security, especially considering the danger that Pakistani nuclear weapons could fall into terrorist hands should the Musharraf regime collapse.

This week, also, there has been confirmation of reports that a force of 3,200 U.S. Marines will be sent to Afghanistan to buttress allied forces there. This movement comes amid resistance by NATO allies against U.S. entreaties for reinforcing the number of Europeans fighting in Afghanistan.

Altogether, the center of the War on Terror has moved east from Iraq into Afghanistan and Pakistan, but there are, as well, new Al-Qaeda attacks in North Africa.

To a certain extent, the American election campaign has moved toward more economic concerns and less controversy over U.S. participation in military campaigns in the Middle East. But, make no mistake, this crisis-ridden region remains a fulcrum of world power politics, and doing in the assassins is integral to U.S. national security.


The Los Angeles Times continues to do an admirable job of covering stories outside the main flow of the news. Two stories just yesterday come to mind. In one, in the Business section, Jessica Guynn wrote most entertainingly of the free meals the Google Corp. feeds to its employees at its headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. In a second, on Page 1, Jeffrey Fleishman wrote about the difficult lives of American women who have married Saudi Arabian men, converted to Islam and moved to Saudi Arabia. This is a little like voluntarily walking into Dante's Circles of Hell.

Even when the Times is picking up articles from other newspapers, it is frequently choosing well. Another article yesterday told the inspiring story of John Muir Laws, who has been photographing insect and other life in the Sierra, honoring the great naturalist whom he was named after. This article came from the Washington Post.

I'm glad also to see that sports editor Randy Harvey has sent tennis writer Lisa Dillman to Melbourne to cover the Australian Open, after a one-year hiatus of covering that splendid event.


Monday, January 14, 2008

There Are Liars, Damn Liars, And Pollsters

Not since the polls predicted Thomas E. Dewey's victory over Harry S. Truman in 1948, have they been more disgracefully wrong, by and large, than they've been in the early stages of the 2008 campaign. You would think the worst of these would, out of a proper sense of shame, pull up stakes and stop. But no.

Today's polls are representative. The New York Times/CBS News poll has Sen. Hillary Clinton leading Sen. Barack Obama, 42% to 27%, an immense lead, even greater than eight polls showed for Obama over Clinton in New Hampshire, before she won the primary narrowly .

But on the same day the ABC-Washington Post poll is out showing Clinton leading Obama just 42% to 37%.

Then, in Michigan, two polls show former Gov. Mitt Romney in the lead in Tuesday's primary over Sen. John McCain. But a Detroit News poll puts McCain in the lead.

Down in Florida, it's bunched up more than I suspect the election will be Jan. 29 on the Republican side. A Quinnipiac poll shows McCain 22%, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani 20%, Romney 19% and former Gov. Mike Huckabee 19%. On the Democratic side, Quinnipiac shows Clinton blowing out Obama in the Sunshine state, 52% to 31%.

Is this at all useful? I think not. Many of the polls already have been outside the margin of error, and yet these dishonest, snake oil salesmen always have their excuses, such as: White voters lie about how they will vote for blacks. Women lie about how they will vote for a woman. Evangelicals lie about how they will vote for a Mormon. It goes on and on.

And, I might add, virtually all pollsters weight their results, according to what they think the demographics of the turnout will be. Most often, they're turning out wrong. No less an expert than Karl Rove points out the primary turnout is unpredictable. I used to think the Tribune Co. was being cheap to cut out most L.A. Times polling. Now, it's apparent they are doing the readers a favor. (But it didn't last long. The L.A. Times is out tonight with a poll in the Feb. 5 California primary showing Clinton and McCain ahead).

All this is clouding the situation when between now and Feb. 6, there are going to be so many primaries that in all likelihood we're going to know in just three weeks who's strong, who's weak, and even who will be the nominees. We won't need the press or television to tell us, two days early, using a bunch of spurious polls, or their own faulty intuition. It's a game that does us no credit.

Momentum also is being false interpreted, often as not, by a profession of reporters who, alas, do not know nearly as much as we'd like to think we know.

It's been particularly bad this year. Newsweek has a different production schedule than Time, so it was able to have an issue reporting on a standalone basis the results of the Iowa Caucuses. With Obama on the cover, Newsweek's editors made Obama out to be a virtual saint who could do no wrong, a genius who was pushing Clinton toward political oblivion.

Then, New Hampshire came in, and although Clinton's margin was only two points (as against a CNN poll which had put Obama 10 points ahead and a Gallup poll which had put him 13 points ahead), Time's cover story focused almost entirely on Clinton. Now she was super girl, for what may have been a contrived near-crying episode that may have won the women's vote, and Obama, for a single two-word characterization of Clinton as "likeable enough," was a dunce.

I also noticed that CNN Time Warner makes the same silly corporate boasts for Time and CNN. Time's political columnist, Joe Klein, is thus described in Time as the best columnist writing, and, CNN told us, 30 times, if not 50, on New Hampshire primary night that their analysts are the best in the business.

Anyone who reads and watches politics widely knows that CNN analysis is mediocre, and Klein's columns are as well. It's just corporate bushwa, such as we've been getting ad infinitum, from Counrywide Mortgage and other "experts" on the subprime crisis. If Klein is so good, I suggest we send him to the Afghanistan/Pakistan border to find Osama bin Laden.

We're just going to have to wait to see what happens in the American election, but one thing is sure: From the Clinton campaign and all its surrogates, it's going to be dirty. Just in the last week, former President Bill Clinton, frantic to keep his dynasty afloat, has suggested that Obama's anti-war pitch is a "fairy tale," Hillary Clinton has called Lyndon Johnson more responsible for civil rights, than the nobel Peace Prize winner, Martin Luther King, and a black representative of the Clinton campaign has insinuated that Obama peddled drugs.

Richard Nixon must be smiling in his grave. The Clintons are just as bad as he was, and the latest polls are claiming the American voters are just as gullible.

The pie-in-the-sky idealist this past week was actually President George W. Bush. He has been traveling in the Middle East, saying there might be an Arab-Israeli settlement by the end of this year, and peddling democracy in the Gulf states. It sounds like he, not Obama, has been smoking something, and not just cigarettes.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Politicians, Bureaucrats, Raising Highway Tolls

The New York Times yesterday had an edifying report on how Gov. Jon Corzine's administration in New Jersey has plans to raise tolls for an automobile on the New Jersey Turnpike from the present $5.85 to $48 for the complete drive from the Lincoln Tunnel to the Delaware Memorial Bridge. The increase would come in stages between now and 2022.

Truck tolls would zoom from the current $23 to $186, according to the article by Ken Belson and David W. Chen. But wouldn't these costs inevitably be passed on to consumers in a whole range of price increases?

New Jersey has been, is, and will be in the future one of the nation's lousiest places to live, but I'm afraid what's happening there in this instance could presage dramatic new burdens on drivers here in California as well. Already, the tolls on just ten miles of the highway from Orange to Riverside counties have zoomed to $10 in peak periods, and wherever toll roads intrude, greedy politicians and pointy-headed bureaucrats will conspire to increase the tolls just as fast as the more justifiable cigarette tax.

In many instance, it is double taxation. Our gas tax and bonds approved by the electorate but charged against the property tax, have been used to help build freeways. Federal funds have helped mightily as well. Now, under the pressure of federal officials in Washington, the Los Angeles County Supervisors, that royal collection of stupes, is planning to introduce tolls on the carpool lanes of three freeways.

And this is just the start. Once tolls become more widespread, congestion pricing -- a charge for drivers to enter downtown areas in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities -- cannot be far behind. Already, federal bureaucrats are pushing the state to adopt it, by withholding federal highway funds from states that resist.

And what would this mean? It would mean that the wealthy would be zipping along our highways, in special lanes only the rich could afford, while the working poor would have to resign themselves to use either the crowded free lanes, or, alternatively, the city streets.

This would be the sad fate of the carpool lanes, often built at the expense of building more freeways.

As toll lanes and congestion pricing spreads, the motoring freedoms we have known in California will vanish, and, we can easily surmise, congestion will only increase, because more and more drivers will be getting off the highways and trying to find their way through up to now, quiet, protected neighborhoods. Say goodbye to quiet. From now on, everything would get more crowded and filled with vehicular noise.

The New York Times article on the situation in New Jersey does say, in its very headline, that "debate will be fierce" about the plan to charge $48 in tolls for driving the length of the New Jersey Turnpike.

Corzine was the governor who was critically injured in a car crash when his speeding vehicle was involved in an accident and, it was revealed, he wasn't wearing a seat belt. Now, he has called a series of public hearings on his nefarious plans, but he wants to require that people attending them register in advance.

Like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in California, Corzine is hesitating on building the highways and other transportation systems that will ease traffic congestion in the future, especially the kinds of high speed rail systems that will absorb much of the increasing population in other means of travel.

Who else wants to give up? Only L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez, a leading spokesman for the highway enslavement lobby, and others who feel that social engineering will solve all our problems with traffic congestion.

They are wrong. They are going to introduce misery to ordinary life. We should rally public opinion to resist them and cut their schemes off before they can start rolling now toward the path of charging everybody to go everywhere.


To pay Lopez his due, I agree with him on almost everything but congestion pricing and the Iraq war. He has a brilliant column today in the Los Angeles Times on Schwarzenegger and California's fiscal problems, suggesting only half tongue-in-cheek that the state try another gubernatorial Recall.

Lopez called Rep. Darrel Issa, former Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian, and Ted Costa, all fathers of the Recall of Gov. Gray Davis, for comments on Schwarzenegger's failure to fulfill his pledge to bring the state into fiscal sobriety. Only Costa returned his call.