Friday, February 29, 2008

Sleazy Clinton Ads In Both Texas And Ohio

It should come as no surprise that in order to desperately rejuvenate their faltering power grab, the Bill and Hillary Clinton campaign for a co-presidency would start in the last three days to launch dirty, grossly misleading advertisements against Obama on television in both Texas and Ohio.

In an ad reminiscent of Lyndon B. Johnson's "nuclear bomb" ad against Barry Goldwater, suggesting that Johnson (who was about to rev up the Vietnam war and send thousands of American soldiers to their deaths uselessly) was less dangerous than Goldwater. The ad falsely suggested that it was Goldwater, not Johnson, who would go to war. It turned out to be a lie, and Americans paid for it with their lives.

Now, in Texas, Hillary Clinton -- who is no more qualified to become President of the United States than Lurline Wallace was to become governor of Alabama -- is claiming she would be safer for Americans to have in the White House than Barack Obama. If it's 3 a.m. and a call about a terrorist attack arrives in the White House, who would you want in the White House answering it, Clinton or Obama, the ad asks.

That's a question that may come up in a Obama campaign this fall against John McCain. But McCain is much more entitled to ask it than a ditsy woman who cries for political advantage, who voted for the Iraq war in the first place, when Obama did not, and now at last has called her vote a mistake. Her unsteady hand would certainly not be safer for the American people than Barack Obama's .

McCain can run sincerely on the security issue, and it would be up to Obama to answer him. Hillary Clinton cannot, because she has already shown countless times her unreliability, her changeability. The woman whose husband took a payoff in dealings over a mining concession with the dictator of Kazakhstan, who could not even stand up against her husband's philandering in the White House, cannot now try to fool the American people into thinking that she and that same morally-stained husband would be safer for them again in the White House.

In a firm, principled statement Friday, Obama declared, "We've seen these ads before. They're the kind that play on peoples' fears to scare up votes. Well, it won't work this time. Because the question is not about picking up the phone. The question is -- what kind of judgment will you make when you answer? We've just had a red phone moment. It was the decision to invade Iraq. And Senator Clinton gave the wrong answer."

Meanwhile, in Ohio, the Clintons, who brought the unfair NAFTA to the United States, giving away hundreds of thousands of workers jobs to foreign interests, today have the gall to suggest that Obama is less sincere in his questioning of NAFTA than they are.

This, in its own way, is just as sleazy an ad. It seeks to take advantage of the perceived gullibility of millions of honest Ohio workers and their families.

The Clinton ads in Ohio and Texas are reminiscent of the ads of other Southern demagogues -- the Watsons, the Bilbos, the Faubuses and the Wallaces -- who behaved so disgracefully over the years. Figuratively, they have joined the lynch mob who will do anything to prevent the advent of a just America. At the same time, they have established, far more than their critics ever could, just how divisive another Clinton presidency would be. There is a Southern term for the Clintons: White trash.

Also, it is reported today that the Clinton campaign has raised questions about the fairness of voting procedures in Texas, where the primary will be followed by caucuses that will select some of the delegates. The Clinton complaints, carrying an implicit threat of legal action or a credentials fight at the Democratic national convention, were immediately denounced by Texas Democratic party officials.

And now the question is whether the voters of Texas and Ohio will ignore this manure and vote intelligently next Tuesday for Obama and a higher, more moral form of American politics.

When some of his backers were peddling nonsense this week, calling Obama by his middle name, Hussein, and suggesting falsely he is a Muslim, McCain apologized for it and pledged to try to see it wouldn't happen again.

This showed once again that McCain is an honorable man. The Clintons are anything but honorable, and it is time to sweep them into the trashcan of history.


Tom Mulligan and Jim Rainey have an excellent story in the L.A. Times today on the layoffs in American newspapers, and, specifically, the threatening nature of Tribune Co. owner Sam Zell's visit this week to the L.A. Times Washington bureau, in which he infamously said that the Times staff in Orange County should be increased to numbers bigger than the Washington bureau. The implication was that the Washington bureau would be decreased.

Kudos to them for having the courage and integrity to stand up to the beast from Chicago.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

In Gaza, Clear All Arabs, And Turn It Into A Park

The time has come to strike definitively at the Gaza Arabs, ousting them from the 25-mile long strip and turning it into a cleared area, a park. With their rocket attacks against Israel, they have proved themselves unfit occupants and thoroughly unacceptable neighbors.

It is unclear where these miserable people can be pushed to, but once strong military operations begin, perhaps they can be helped to breach again the Egyptian border and move, initially, into the Sinai, and perhaps later to Iran, which has assumed responsibility for supplying them with the weapons they have been using to attack Israeli cities.

Gradually, the weapons they use have become longer range and more sophisticated. Iran Grad missiles, smuggled in during the last border breach with Egypt are now striking Ashkelon, a city well north of the border. Disruption of Israeli civilian life has increased, and deaths are occurring.

In Israel, the weak government of Ehud Olmert has temporized with this problem. Its strategy of pinpoint attacks against Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists is killing a few of the terrorists each day, but it has not halted the attacks. Since he is unwilling to take steps to halt the rocket fire, Olmert should resign and give way to a braver leader.

It is clear now that the attempt of the Israelis to withdraw from Gaza and let that area govern itself has been an abject failure -- as if Arab leaders could be trusted at any time.

They cannot be, and if Ariel Sharon, who has been lying comatose for two years since suffering a stroke, were well today and still in charge, he would have taken strong action a long time ago.

Calls for restraint from the Bush Administration are neither helpful nor appropriate. At each time in the past when the Israelis have had a security crisis, the U.S. has always urged restraint, and the United Nations has been opposed flatly to the Israelis defending themselves. And in each case, the Israelis have finally taken necessary action, and the rest of the world has, more or less, gone along, putting in peacekeeping forces, such as along the Lebanese border two years ago, which have quieted the situation.

But no one from the outside world wants to go into the cesspool that is Gaza. This time, once again, the Israelis must initiate action and let the chips fall where they may.

Some will say, don't take collective action against a whole population. But the Gaza Arabs are responsible for their own plight. Rather than try to form a peaceful, self-governing entity, they, as a people, have put extremists in charge and persistently supported violent attacks.

Now has come the time for them to live somewhere else. They must go to a safe area where they can do no further harm.


The same might be said of newspaper magnates William Dean Singleton and Sam Zell. They are as destructive as the Gaza Arabs, in a different way. Rather than seeking to destroy Israel, they are conspiring in the destruction of their own newspapers and other holdings.

Certainly, we see that today at the Daily News in the San Fernando Valley. Singleton has pretty much ruined the newspaper already with cutbacks. Yesterday, he forced editor Ron Kaye to announce new layoffs, paring the editorial staff from 122 to 100. Kaye broke down emotionally as he announced the layoffs to the staff. Of course, such cutbacks generate only new losses of circulation and advertising. The Daily News may not survive much longer.

As for Zell, proof comes today that he hates Chicago just as much as Los Angeles. It's announced that he is making plans, before he sells the Chicago Cubs, to first sell the naming rights at Wrigley Field. Maybe, the venerable old stadium, the heart of the Chicago psyche, may soon be called Chinese Import Field, or Hillary Clinton Field, just depending who is willing to pay Zell the most.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Zell Threatens The L.A. Times Washington Bureau

When the unqualified Russ Stanton was named as lackey-editor of the L.A. Times by lackey-publisher David Hiller, he broadly hinted he would do in the Times national and foreign coverage, or at least sharply pare it.

This week, Tribune Co. owner Sam Zell, to whom Stanton and Hiller obsequiously report, dropped the other shoe. In an appearance at the Washington bureau, Zell said its staff (now 47) is "bloated" and suggested it should be smaller than the Times' Orange County staff. L.A. Times reporters and editors in Washington are said to have loudly objected.

It is more and more evident that Zell, a corrupt Chicago billionaire, has little regard for, and no understanding of the newspaper business. When he became Tribune Co. owner, he first said he would not cost cut his way to prosperity, but it has already become apparent he was lying.

Zell came to the Washington bureau at the same time as a memorial service for the retired Times Washington Bureau reporter Rudy Abramson. This offensive timing left the bureau staff, particularly the ones there when Abramson worked there, with a kind of Sophie's choice: They could honor their esteemed colleague, or they could listen to Zell. Some courageously did choose to honor Abramson by going to the service, and others stayed for Zell. It may have been just as well, had all gone to the service and boycotted Zell.

As usual, those who stayed for him found Zell a crass jackass. But at least he did not smoke any pot while he was at the bureau.

Afterwards, Doyle McManus, the Times Washington bureau chief, tried, as he frequently does in this sad era, to put the best possible interpretation on things. He said in a memo to the Washington staff that in ensuing discussions he had concluded Zell, who loves to throw out bombastic sentiments, should not be taken literally.

If McManus really believes that, he's been smoking some of Zell's marijuana. It might be remembered that when Hiller-fired Times editor Dean Baquet was made Washington bureau chief of the New York Times, McManus issued a statement vowing that the L.A. Times Washington bureau would be a stiff competitor. Despite the fact that Baquet has made some miscues, such as pushing the New York Times' scurrilous and lascivious article about the supposed sex life of Sen. John McCain last week, the Washington bureau of the New York paper has, in fact, outshone the L.A. Times bureau.

This morning, Chicago Tribune media writer Phil Rosenthal, in a long article about Zell's appearance in Washington, says that he asked Stanton about Zell's threats to the Washington bureau. Would Stanton agree, he wanted to know.

He quotes Stanton as answering: "I can see why Zell is asking the questions. I can understand why someone would think that (cutting back the Washington bureau) would be a good idea."

Well, it is obvious that Stanton has decided already to be a traitor to long range L.A. Times quality and interests. So much for him. When a ranking Timesman this week speculated that Stanton and Hiller both would be gone by the end of the year, let's hope he was right. But that presumes Zell is going to come to his senses, and I wouldn't bet he would.

In LA Observed this morning, Kevin Roderick suggests that in the wake of Zell's threats in Washington a number of the Times staff there, particularly the most able, would be calling Baquet to ask him for job.

I hope they will not do that immediately. They can always go elsewhere after the firings begin. But their duty now is to stay and fight for the bureau. They can protest vehemently, they can scream to the outside journalistic world. They can plant the kind of stink bombs in the Tribune Tower that the anti-war groups did at the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968. They should not go quietly, and neither should the bureau chief, Doyle McManus.

Meanwhile, here in Los Angeles, we need help from that Civic Alliance that protested to then-Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons last year. They must now push the idea of the Tribune Co. selling the L.A. Times to local interests here who would have the paper's interests at heart. And they must call loudly for firing the traitors, Hiller and Stanton.

LA Observed also reports this morning that new layoffs are expected momentarily at the Daily News in the San Fernando Valley. If that paper dies, which it soon might, then there will be opportunity for the L.A. Times to pick up substantial Valley circulation. Perhaps, that opens up prospects which might be encouraged by expanding the Times' present miniscule Valley staff. (I remember attending a Hiller presentation to Valley civic leaders at which he lied through his teeth about his plans for Valley coverage, just 24 hours before he announced he was thinking of putting ads on Page 1).


The L.A. Times runs a Times-Bloomberg poll this morning that shows McCain beating either Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. Hillary Clinton in November general election matchups.

This has to be taken with a very large grain of salt. The fact is, Times-Bloomberg has been off the mark before this year, in large part because it has made erroneous assumptions about both the size of the turnout and its demographics. This poll is in all likelihood just as all wet. Maybe, Stanton has been conducting it.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Clinton Grows Delusional, Non-Historical On Obama

Sen. Hillary Clinton has sunk to a new low of being delusional on the subject of her Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, by comparing him on foreign policy to President George W. Bush. After all, it was Clinton, not Obama, who supported Mr. Bush on the Iraq war.

But Mrs. Clinton is also ignoring history when she claims that (1) non-partisanship doesn't work and that one has to be confrontational, as she and husband Bill have been, not to mention, Mr. Bush, and that (2) splendid oratory, such as exhibited by Obama, doesn't really count in politics.

No wonder, Clinton's political fortunes are sinking so fast. As NBC commentator Tim Russert suggested last night, she desperately needs to find a coherent message, rather than wildly moving from subject to subject, day by day, as she seeks to find something that will work against Obama.

The fact is that several recent U.S. presidents, not to mention British and French statesmen, have been highly successful reaching across the partisan aisle to find crucial support in the other political party. Lyndon B. Johnson sought the invaluable support of Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois on civil rights legislation. Dwight D. Eisenhower frequently sought the support of Johnson on legislation, and Harry S. Truman won the support of Sen. Arthur H. Vandenberg of Michigan for the Marshall Plan, NATO, and other foreign policy moves in the Cold War. In 1940-41, Franklin D. Roosevelt won the backing of the Republican 1940 presidential candidate, Wendell Wilkie, for his moves toward support of Great Britain in World War II.

In France, when he returned to power in 1958, Gen. Charles de Gaulle included everyone in his cabinet from Pierre Mendes-France on the left to Antoine Pinay on the right. And during World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill entered into a grand coalition with British Labor and Liberal party leaders to pursue the war with the Nazis, using Clement Attlee and Lord Dalton in key posts.

It is typical of the frequently whining Hillary Clinton that she claims a leader must be polarizing and divisive to govern. History does not agree, however, and the extreme partisanship of the Clintons and Bushes has put American government on the road to ruin, not to success.

It is the supreme realization of this truth by millions of American voters in 2008 that has fueied both the Obama and John McCain candidacies. Both men have repeatedly expressed their willingness to form governments that will seek to unite people of varying political persuasions behind their administrations. This is especially true of Obama, but McCain too has already obtained the support of independent Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman. Both candidates would reach out in the fall campaigns for backers in the other political party, and there can be little doubt that both would include members of the other party in their cabinet.

In short, either Obama or McCain would return to the benefits of a nonpartisan approach to unite the country. This is one of the most profoundly encouraging things about both their candidacies. It is only Hillary Clinton, among the three major candidates left standing, who would mire herself in the divisions of recent years.

As for oratory, why should we accept the turgid, wonkish language of Clinton as our political standard, when we have the sublime eloquence of a Barack Obama, and the willingness to speak out on all issues of a John McCain.

The fact is that oratory does count. Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill helped win their wars with oratory. John F. Kennedy greatly enhanced his presidency with oratory. Charles de Gaulle was a great writer as well as supreme orator. And other political and military figures -- Harry Truman, Douglas MacArthur and even Dwight Eisenhower -- greatly improved their records through their oratorical skills.

You may say Eisenhower was not particularly eloquent. But what about his "Don't join the bookburners" speech denouncing Sen. Joseph McCarthy at Dartmouth College? Or his farewell speech to the nation after two terms in office, warning of the dangers of the military-industrial complex?

No, Barack Obama's oratory does count. It has already inspired this and other nations, while the lack of it has shown up Clinton to be a political mediocrity. Even in ancient times, the oratory of Demosthenes and Cicero changed the course of empires.

We do need now less nonsense in this campaign, and, if Obama wins next Tuesday in Texas and Ohio, or maybe just in Texas, we will obtain it, because there is every likelihood Clinton will resign herself to defeat and get out of the race.


The inept Russ Stanton, new editor of the L.A. Times, has mandated that published lists of personnel put the newspaper's Web site employees first, and the print paper's personnel second. This foolishly ignores the fact that 93% of Los Angeles Times revenue comes from the print edition.

With new reports that Times revenue overall continues to sink, perhaps both Stanton and publisher David Hiller will be gone by the end of the year. New Tribune owner Sam Zell could give the Times new life and a better reputation by elevating Jack Klunder as publisher, and perhaps a distinguished outsider, such as former Annenberg school dean and Voice of America director Geoffrey Cowan as editor. Both are Los Angelenos and this too would be a welcome step forward.

I notice this morning that Zell appeared at a Tribune-owned paper, the News Press, in Newport News, Va., and declared that, unlike so many, he sees a "great future" for newspapers. The best way to insure this in Los Angeles would be to change the top personnel, as I've suggested.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Afghanistan, A Costly Stalemate, Looms After 2008

As usual Sunday, some of the best reporting was in the New York Times magazine. The subject was Elizabeth Rubin's long cover story on her sojourn with U.S. troops in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, where men on 15-month tours are slowly going crazy combatting the intractible Taliban insurgency.

Afghanistan is like Vietnam was in 1964: Major decisions loom after the U.S. election. The embattled and unpopular Bush Adminisration may be able to put them off until the next president takes over. But, then, he or she is going to have to make decisions possibly entailing a much greater U.S. commitment and even a wider war, into Pakistan, or getting out. For the NATO countries which have somewhat halfheartedly joined us, it's going to be decision time too.

On Feb. 7, 1965, less than three weeks after being sworn in for another term, President Lyndon B. Johnson fatefully ordered bombing of North Vietnam and expansion of U.S. forces, after having campaigned as a comparative dove against the hawkish Republican 1964 candidate, Sen. Barry Goldwater. He had put off crucial Vietnam decisions in 1964. In 1965, he felt he could not any longer.

We face a similar situation now. It is comparatively easy for the Democratic 2008 candidates for president, Sens. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton, to talk about how Iraq is a diversion, and, while pulling troops from there, they intend to focus more effort on Afghanistan, where both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda pose a greater security threat to the U.S. But if one of them defeats Sen. John McCain, and becomes president, he or she is going to be up against it, and a decision to do more in Afghanistan could be a somber beginning to either one's presidency, unpopular with the doves who have fueled their campaigns.

The insurgency in Afghanistan is growing more serious. Suicide bombings and other attacks, even in the Afghan capital of Kabul, are increasing. The Karzai regime is faltering, weary of the fight. And, across the border in Pakistan, both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are stronger, consolidating their grip on the border regions in the wake of an election that further challenges the grip of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Just this morning, comes a new attack in Pakistan, the bombing murder of the country's Army Surgeon General, and seven others in the capital of Rawalpindi, not far from where Benazir Bhutto was assassinated.

Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar are believed hiding somewhere in Pakistan, as they have ever since 2001. So far, we haven't found them.

Pakistan is, of course, a nuclear-armed state. Intervention by the U.S., India, Israel and the European countries would be necessary -- possibly even before the U.S. election -- if Al-Qaeda and the Taliban were to move toward seizing control of the country's nukes.

The Rubin article in the New York Times magazine demonstrates, sadly, in what jeopardy the present stalemate in that part of the world has put U.S. soldiers. Many, according to this article, are near the breaking point. One man she writes about is on his sixth tour of duty in the war zones. In seeking to avoid inflicting civilian casualties, they are granting advantages to the insurgents, who are in real control of virtually all the villages.

On a broader basis, the question of what to do with Islamic fundamentalists certainly arises. If they are truly threatening to the U.S. and the West, as I believe they are, the rules of engagement are going to have to be changed.

It may be necessary to do what Roman caesars once were said to have done: They created a desert and called it peace.

But this is going to be rough on a new U.S. president, particularly if he or she is a Democrat. McCain might be up to it, but not easily Obama or Clinton and a Democratic majority in Congress.


Time magazine's Mark Halperin, whose "Page" is one of the best sources of up-to-the-minute information about the presidential campaign, leads this morning with word that the Clinton forces are circulating copies of a Drudge Report photo of Obama dressed up in a Somali costume. One wonders if the photo is authentic how Obama could ever have been so reckless as to have dressed in that way. But it also shows the Clinton campaign once again, as in South Carolina, trying to play the race card against Obama. Late reports say the Clinton campaign provided Drudge with the photo. Also, it's pointed out today that both Bill and Hillary Clinton dressed in local costumes while on foreign trips. This is apparently what Obama did while visiting Kenya in 2006.

Whoever said Hillary and Bill Clinton are honorable? They are as sleazy as they come. As Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said today, circulation of the photo constitutes "the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we've seen from either party in this election year."

In a shameless defense of the race-baiting, the new Clinton campaign manager, Maggie Williams, who is black herself, says it was perfectly all right to circulate the photo. If this kind of thing continues and Hillary wins the Democratic nomination as a result, many African-Americans will justifiably cross over and vote for McCain.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Obama Right, Clinton Wrong on Health, NAFTA

In the mess that is the Hillary Clinton campaign, we find that in the key Texas and Ohio primaries, Sen. Barack Obama has managed to outflank her on two issues of great concern to the working people of both states -- health care and NAFTA.

Obama mailings on these issues have Clinton in fits, but they simply hone in on the truth about the changeable Clinton. Her health care plan would mandate that everyone buy insurance, when many can't afford it. And she supported NAFTA before she was running for President, and now, when it appears disadvantageous, has flip-flopped without admitting it. Shades of Mitt Romney.

The strangest thing about the campaign to restore Clinton rule over the United States is that Hillary Clinton has come to seem in many ways incompetent, when she argued at the outset of her effort that she was super-competent, and, as she often repeats, ready on "day one" to be President.

But, in fact, it is Obama who has emerged as more competent, by the campaign he has run, the organization he has established, and either by his consistency on the issues, or at least by his honesty when he has changed position. He is simply the better candidate, and certainly better suited for the presidency.

The stories of disorganization in the Clinton campaign are legion, but the New York Times laid them out most comprehensively the other day in a front-page article by Michael Luo, Jo Becker and Patrick Healy. Former Sen. John Edwards helped do himself in when it became known that he was getting $400 haircuts, but, in terms of extravagance, he was a piker compared to Clinton. She allowed the mismanagers of her campaign to spend $95,000 on sandwiches in the Iowa caucuses campaign, $25,000 for rooms at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas for the Nevada caucuses, altogether a whopping $35 million on polling and greedy, high-priced consultants who often set her on the wrong course, and, as a result, was left without sufficient funds after Obama stalemated her on Super Tuesday to contest effectively in the following 11 primaries and caucuses. In some states, she never got started. In even key states, like Texas and Pennsylvania, she has been late in getting organized. As of last week, she still did not even have a complete delegate slate in Pennsylvania.

By contrast, the Obama campaign has been a marvel of organization and shrewd use of resources. Recently, it has been raising twice the money Clinton has gotten, and it has been outspending her in advertising in some states by as much as 7 to 1.

Is this a surprise? Perhaps, it should not have been.

We don't know exactly what happened in the first year of the Clinton Administration, 1993, when President Bill Clinton put Hillary in charge of fashioning a national health care plan, in large part because the Clintons have assiduously declined to make the written records publicly available. But we do know the plan came crashing down and was never enacted. The big insurance companies smashed it with a clever, if dishonest, advertising campaign, and the Clintons decided finally to fold their tents.

Now, Hillary Clinton has been saying that her new health care plan would leave no one without insurance. But it would leave millions without food or housing, because after they paid the for-profit insurance companies, they'd have no money left for the other essentials.

On this, Obama has been far more realistic. He would extend insurance to many who don't have it now, but he would avoid unworkable elements of compulsion.

In fairness, both Clinton and Obama supported NAFTA at one time, before it became all too evident that free trade has resulted in the loss of millions of working class jobs here at home, letting in a flood of cheap imports. It's been great for peasants in other countries, not so advantageous for working Americans.

The difference on NAFTA is that Clinton won't admit changing her position, while Obama, with honesty, changed his, based on experience with the way the free trade pact actually has worked. Of course, the fact that an estimated 50,000 industrial jobs have been lost in Ohio as a result of NAFTA makes this a particularly timely issue right now.

The Clinton Administration, like the half-crazed editorial writers of the New York Times, were such unquestioning believers in globalism that they ignored the way the world was. Now, Hillary Clinton wants to catch up, but, on this issue as others, such as Iraq, she is running laps behind Obama. One serious failing she has is that she will never admit that she made a mistake.

I think it is not so wild to speculate, based on what we've been hearing in this campaign, that Obama would be more centered on what would be good for America than Clinton. That he is a patriot, committed to the highest historic traditions of the USA, is manifest, while, with Clinton, she and husband Bill are committed mainly to themselves. Bill Clinton is more dedicated to good relations with the dictator of Kazakhstan and a Canadian mining magnate than he is to American interests, and Hillary Clinton has not sufficiently put distance between herself and the policies, particularly the money-grubbing, of her husband.

This explains why many Republicans are actually leaning toward Obama, while disdaining Hillary, and why in polls, such as the one released by the Des Moines Register this morning, Obama is running far better against Sen. John McCain, than Hillary is. The Register poll showed Obama beating McCain in Iowa, 53% to 36%, while McCain beat Hillary in the poll, 49% to 40%.

After eight years of President Bush, and 20 years of Bushes and Clintons, the American people are itching for a competent government. On the Democratic side, it has become obvious that in this respect, Obama is the best choice.


Clark Hoyt, the public editor of the New York Times, came out strongly on the side of those who have contended the newspaper should not have run its article slashing at McCain last week, and suggesting, without proving or even reasonably arguing, that he had an affair eight years ago with a woman lobbyist three decades his junior.

Hoyt, who is never anyone's shrinking violet, dismissed executive editor Bill Keller's argument that the article had not been primarily about sex, stating, "I think that ignores the scarlet elephant in the room.

"A newspaper cannot begin a story about the all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee, with the suggestion of an extramarital affair with an attractive lobbyist 31 years his junior and expect readers to focus on anything other than what most of them did. And if a newspaper is going to suggest an improper sexual affair, whether editors think that is the central point or not, it owes readers more proof than the Times was able to provide."

It sounds like Keller may be just as incompetent as Hillary Clinton, although Hoyt was too respectful of Keller to make that point.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Lisa Girion's Highly Useful Articles On Insurance

Sam Zell, David Hiller and Russ Stanton may spew all kinds of nonsense on the future of the L.A. Times, but its writers carry on -- and in some cases brilliantly.

We see two instances of that in today's newspaper: Yet another compelling article on health insurance and its failings by Lisa Girion, and a column by Tim Rutten examining how the New York Times ineptly made itself the issue by doing an investigative piece on Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, that didn't wash.

Girion, along with the L.A. Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Charles Ornstein, has been writing about health issues for some time. Ornstein specializes in treatment failures at hospitals; Girion writes about the failures of the health insurers. Both are vital ways of looking at the health embroglio, wherein Americans spend more than anybody else to take care of themselves, but often get poor care.

Girion's article this morning, the lead story in the paper, has to do with a $9 million punitive judgment by a private judge against Health Net for arbitrarily canceling a woman's insurance right in the middle of her chemotherapy, leaving her with $129,000 in bills. The decision prompted Health Net to say that in the future it would subject such decisions to outside review.

A few days ago, Girion had an article about a state crackdown on Health Net, which is based in Woodland Hills, for such practices as paying its agents special bonuses for finding expensive patients the company could cancel. And, she has also written a whole series of articles about the trouble the huge Blue Cross health insurer has run into for questionable cancellations.

I found in years of covering insurance issues for the L.A. Times that, other than car dealers, there is probably no more unscrupulous business than insurance. Quite simply, the insurance companies frequently cheat their customers by throwing up all kinds of obstacles to paying legitimate claims, thereby defeating the whole reason for carrying insurance.

The L.A. Times hasn't always covered the insurance industry with the critical scrutiny it deserves. But Girion has. She is one of the paper's most outstanding reporters and has been for some time.

Tim Rutten too is a writer who never fails to bring credit on the paper. He recently moved on to the Times' often deficient Op Ed page from the Calendar section, where he wrote a media column.

Today, Rutten uses his background of media commentary to examine carefully how the New York Times fell on its face this week, writing so unfairly about McCain that it actually allowed him to gather conservative support around his candidacy that he had found elusive.

Regardless about pessimism that often marks views about the future of newspapers, when we see articles like Girion and Rutten are writing every week, we can appreciate the tremendous value newspapers have in a free society.


A less effective article in the L.A. Times today, by Victoria Kim, is unduly negative on a proposed Crenshaw light rail line. Kim quotes Jim Moore, director of the transportation engineering program at USC, as saying the line is unnecessary. Moore invariably opposes all rail transportation projects in the Los Angeles area and is apparently in cahoots with highway and automotive lobbies. He is not a credible spokesman, and Kim, or her editors, should have known this.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Zell Makes Clear: L.A. Times To Become Local Rag

If there was any doubt from the broad hints dropped by L.A. Times publisher David Hiller and his choice as lackey, new editor Russ Stanton, that the L.A. Times is eventually destined to drop much of its foreign and national news coverage and become nothing but a parochial local rag, it was made clearer last night by the comments made by new Tribune Co. owner Sam Zell in his appearance at the Hammer Museum.

Zell, who clearly has feasted in his life on too much rotten Chicago food, impairing his brain processes, said that there is no place in Los Angeles for a "national" newspaper and he dismissed foreign news as something "journalists like to cover" but fails to engage readers. He contended there is no business rationale for a national paper and predicted even the New York Times will soon be in trouble.

It is clear that Zell has all the smarts of Wendy McCaw, the disgraced owner of the Santa Barbara News-Press, and that the controversies that have ruined that newspaper are inevitably going to come to the L.A. Times.

Zell is such a bumpkin that he misunderstands Los Angeles -- a world class city -- completely and thinks Los Angeles readers will be satisfied with a paper who doesn't tell them what is going on in the world.

So, the network of foreign and national correspondents gloriously built up under the great publisher, Otis Chandler, who did understand Los Angeles, may soon be no more, unless the L.A. Times staff can somehow arrange for Zell, Hiller and Stanton to be ridden out of town on a rail, and the paper sold to someone who is a Los Angeleno and a Californian with the pride and ambitions of an Otis Chandler (someone like David Geffen, perhaps).

Kevin Roderick of LA Observed attended the Zell presentation last night, and the cautious Roderick then minced few words in describing what he thinks Zell means.

"If his opinions and assumptions carry the day, it's clear the Times will become a much different -- and probably a lesser -- news organization," Roderick wrote.

Later, in his report, Roderick wrote, "Zell is clearly not the kind of publisher who aspires to greatness and invests in hard, expensive kinds of journalism digging, complex issues that may take weeks or months to research."

When someone suggested that it sounded as if Times quality would go down, Zell responded only with a reference to the "arrogance" of journalists who aspire to put out something good. "Newspapers have to rethink what their role is," he remarked.

Now, we can better understand the meaning of Stanton's message to the staff that the buyout terms in the future are going to change, with less severance being paid. What Stanton, a man of Tulare tastes, wants is to encourage the Times' quality reporters, especially in Washington and abroad, to leave in the present buyout, so that he can close what Zell views as useless bureaus.

Meanwhile, the media writer at the Chicago Tribune reports that in a meeting with Tribune staff in Chicago Tuesday, Zell sounded as if he were scared by what he has found since assuming control of the Tribune Co. Notably, he told the staff, "This business has been eroding before your eyes, and you're worried about my language?...Everything I said was with an intent to get everybody to get off their (behinds) and understand this is a crisis. We've got to save this business."

What should be the reaction to all of this?

I say, fight Zell and everything he stands for. Although he suggested at one point last night that it might take a year to reinvent the Times, there is no time to lose. The lives of the Chicagoans and their appointees in Los Angeles must be made a misery.

But in the meantime, it's important for the good of California that new entrepreneurs come forward to build quality magazines and other publications here that can replace the Los Angeles Times as it goes down.

The one thing that Zell said last night that made some sense came when he was asked by Judy Olian, dean of UCLA's Anderson School of Management, who he planned to vote for.

Anybody but Hillary Clinton was his response.

This is right on the money, when one considers that Clinton made it plain, as reported by the Texas Monthly today, that she will press for inclusion in the Democratic National Convention of delegates she gathered fraudulently, against commitments she had made, in Florida and Michigan, against rules set by the Democratic National Committee.

Zell may be a jerk. But at least he knows well enough that another squalid Clinton presidency would be a disaster.

On the other hand, he reiterated that he would not seek to influence the editorials endorsements of the Tribune Company's newspapers. He joked, however, that a Times endorsement of Clinton, which so far the newspaper has avoided, might induce him to sell the newspaper.

If we had to accept a Clinton endorsement to get the Times out from under the Chicago mobocracy, I think it's a Faustian bargain I might be willing to accept.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

New York Times Disgracefully Smears McCain

It used to be that the New York Times stood by its motto: All The News That's Fit To Print." Part of this was that it did not write much of anything about sex.

No more. Under the present executive editor, Bill Keller, the NYT now writes a good deal about sex, and twice in recent months it has smeared a major personality without good reason.

The first occasion was an article suggesting that CNBC star reporter Maria Bartiromo had an improper relationship with a Citibank executive. A great deal was made out of the fact that she had flown with him on the corporate plane. The story caused a momentary flurry, but CNBC stuck with Bartiromo, she kept her job, and is just as outstanding as ever. There was absolutely no proof in the New York Times story that anything improper had really occurred.

Now, this morning, in a front page story with an unusual four bylines, the New York Times suggests that prior to his 2000 presidential campaign more than eight years ago, McCain had too close a relationship with a lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, three decades his junior and that his staff warned him against such ties.

Quite high in the story, these reporters write:

"Mr. McCain, 71, and the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, 40, both say they never had a romantic relationship. But to his advisers, even the appearance of a close bond with a lobbyist whose clients often had business before the Senate committee Mr. McCain led threatened the story of redemption and rectitude that defined his political identity."

The reporters were not there to personally observe the relationship, if any, between McCain and Iseman. They should not be writing based on what some disgruntled anonymous former staffers have told them. They have no proof, and since everything they talk about in this relationship occurred years ago. this story is not timely.

This story, in short, should never have run. As the CBS Morning News headlined it this morning, it is a "smear campaign," and it is not the first time in this vital campaign year that the New York Times has set out to smear a conservative candidate. It did the same thing with a whole series of grossly negative stories on former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Faced with the same depressing economic situation that confronts many newspapers these days, and new competition in covering politics from the now Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal, the New York Times has accepted lower standards. Keller recently announced a staff reduction of 100 persons. Revenue at the newspaper was down 8.2% in December compared to a year ago, with advertising revenue off 12% and circulation revenue down 0.6%, despite a price increase.

The same trends are manifest at the Los Angeles Times, but the Los Angeles Times has avoided unscrupulous and unfair political coverage this year. It may not always be as interesting as the New York Times coverage, or as comprehensive. But it has commendably avoided wearing its heart on its sleeve, except on the editorial page, where, of course, the expression of opinions is proper.

The story reports that McCain called Keller to protest the impending story. If this is so, he picked the wrong man. Keller is bullheaded and will not easily admit the paper is in the wrong. He should have called the publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., who caves in under pressure.

(Added Feb. 22: The New Republic is reporting that Keller, for a time, had reservations about the story, but that it was pressed forward by the Times' Washington bureau chief, Dean Baquet. However, Keller bears the final responsibility for the decision to publish the article, and he assumes it again in his response to over 2,400 reader messages, most of them condemning the article. Keller's mealy-mouthed response stamps him as insensitive and unfair).

With the passions running high this year, and the Democrats set to nominate either the first major black or woman candidate for the Presidency, we face the prospect of what could be a nasty campaign. I was talking just this morning to a college classmate who has been national treasurer of four Democratic presidential campaigns, and he expressed great concern that a huge independent advertising campaign, not directly tied to the McCain campaign, could sink either Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. Hillary Clinton. He is backing Hillary, in part because he thinks she would be better able to withstand this.

I expressed hope Obama, who now appears the more likely Democratic nominee, could effectively fight back as well, pointing out that the Clintons' negative campaigning against him in the primaries has not proved very effective. He has fought back, I think, quite skillfully.

But such talk presumes that the smears are going to come from politicians or independent committees, in short through advertising.

If they are coming from major newspapers, it is really going to be rough. I don't think the American people will stand for it. Journalists are already distrusted enough, without piling more public revulsion on their heads.

The New York Times assault this morning on McCain is reprehensible. I've felt for some time that the weak NYT publisher, Sulzberger, made a very serious mistake when he allowed Keller to replace the highly principled and talented Howell Raines as executive editor.
When I read the article this morning signed by Jim Rutenberg, Marilyn W. Thompson, David D. Kirkpatrick and Stephen Latoton (not particularly prominent bylines by the way), I knew I was right.

McCain and his staff, I'm sure, can take care of themselves. McCain faced down his brutal captors in North Vietnam, and he can face down unscrupulous newspapermen. But this whole episode is too bad, and there ought to be the strongest protests both from the political world and ordinary citizens to today's smear of McCain in the New York Times.

The McCain campaign issued a statement which was printed at the end of the NYT story, saying, in part, "Americans are sick and tired of this kind of gutter politics, and there is nothing in this story to suggest that John McCain has ever violated the principles that have guided his career."

I would add, simply, this story is investigative journalism at its worse.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Can Obama Beat McCain? Absolutely.

Written From Sacramento--

The glorious Minutemen dead at the Concord Bridge, where ever they may be today, will surely be rejoicing at the successes of another historic American insurrection. That is the candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama, who like the patriots at the Concord Bridge is turning back a plodding army, the Clintons seeking to maintain power and block the future.

In Wisconsin yesterday, an exit poll question was whether the voters thought the Clintons' attacks on Obama had been unfair. By a 54% to 34% margin, they did.

That's about all we need to know to divine the near future, the Ohio and Texas primaries. The more negative Hillary and Bill Clinton get, the worse they're going to do. Obama, now in all likelihood is going to be the Democratic presidential nominee.

Can he beat Sen. John McCain in the fall?

I certainly think so.

Make no mistake about it, McCain is an attractive candidate, far more so than Hillary. He won't make the legion of mistakes she and her husband have.

But McCain is 71 years old, to Obama's 46, and this is in all probability a Democratic year.

Obama must be careful not to give McCain opportunities to make inroads. If he pledged to go along with public financing, he can't get out of it, any more than Hillary has been able to get away with not divulging the tax returns that may have proved she was a tax cheat.

The Illinois senator must also keep the emphasis he has already developed--on reform, while keeping America safe. He has to demonstrate, especially against McCain, that he will be a tough commander of chief.

And, of course, he has to name an outstanding vice presidential running mate.

But the question that will preoccupy many Americans: Is the country ready for a black President? That can easily be answered. Yes, it is. And McCain is too honorable to raise the race issue anyway. He won't try to be Bill Clinton in South Carolina. He'll have to control some overzealous backers, or at least contain them. But he will do so. He is one tough, resilient man.

McCain could be saved, possibly, by a new terrorist attack against the homeland. But I think the odds are against one occurring, and, even if it does, Obama is too smart to be caught on the dovish side of any response by President Bush.

Once the Minutemen chased the British Army back to Boston, it never emerged from it again. Now, Obama is chasing the special interests, the Clinton power grab, the attempts to install a co-presidency. He's got his foes on the run. He won't stop now, and, I believe, he will be elected.

Again, I'd enter the caveat I did last Dec. 26, when this blog endorsed Obama and McCain for their respective party nominations: The Secret Service must be very diligent in protecting Obama, and McCain too, from nuts and assassins. We don't want a repeat of Nov. 22, 1963, or April 14, 1865.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A BAD First Move By Stanton, New LAT Editor

Written from Redwood City, California--

Critical as I've been, I've been too nice to the Tribune Co. and its appointees, as they've proceeded over the last eight years to downgrade the L.A. Times. There were times I was too hopeful -- about Sam Zell, about the good effect I thought would occur with the firing of Dennis FitzSimons as CEO, and many other instances as well. The New York Times has a long story just today about how terrible David Hiller has been as the Tribune appointee as publisher. The story by Richard Perez-Pena all but identifies Hiller as a liar. Of course, we all knew that.

But there has seldom been a more discouraging moment than now, when Hiller's appointee of an unqualified man as new editor of the newspaper is followed so immediately by the editor, Russ Stanton's, decision to fire one of the most talented of Timesmen in this sad era -- John Montorio, who has recently been serving as managing editor.

Montorio issued a graceful departure statement, expressing pride in his accomplishments in rejuvenating Calendar and other features sections. He has not one unkind word to say about the jackass who just proved his incompetence by firing him.

So let me say it. This was an act of a damn fool. The Lord knows what screwy plans he has for the sections Montorio managed with such distinction.

As I said when Dean Baquet was fired for defending a quality Los Angeles Times by Hiller, we need not wish Montorio good luck: With his talents he will have it.

Baquet went to work as Washington bureau chief of the New York Times. Montorio will soon land just as good a post, and he will be working for gentlemen, not assholes. Baquet, by the way, is quoted in today's New York Times story as castigating the mind set of Tribune executives -- the first time I believe that he has let loose on them publicly, since taking the NYT post.

Montorio is now the second managing editor of the Times to lose his job due to Tribune executive stupidity. Just last year, the talented Doug Frantz left, after editor James O'Shea, himself terminated soon thereafter, failed to back him up in a dispute with a reporter over a biased article he had killed.

John Carroll is gone. Dean Baquet is gone. James O'Shea is gone. Doug Frantz is gone. Now, John Montorio is gone. And that doesn't list the fine reporters who have left. Or, unfortunately, those who will be leaving soon, for greener pastures.

And it all goes back to the corrupt Mark Willes, who managed the newspaper into scandal and finally had the paper, and the other Times-Mirror papers so skillfully developed by Otis Chandler, sold out from underneath him to the low class Tribune Co.

Now, we learn, the Staples scandal is about to be repeated, with a decision to put the Los Angeles Times magazine in hands other than editorial. It will become an advertiser's tear sheet.

What can we do? It seems that Zell and Hiller are proving, day by day, they need psychiatric help. But an able psychiatrist might commit them.

Instead, when they fall on their faces, as they surely will, they probably will walk off with multi-million dollar severances, while it will be the ordinary employees of the Times who will bear the cost, the ones who Zell calls "the owners" of the paper.

It is sad, sad, sad. And now, with the termination of Montorio, the inept Stanton is beginning a new chapter in the slow destruction of the Times as a worthy newspaper.

But all that cannot remove the luster from the great editors who have gone, Montorio, Frantz, Baquet, and Carroll. Let us salute them today. They did their best. They fought the good fight. It was not their fault that they were overcome by men of squalor -- FitzSimons, Hiller, Stanton, and, unhappily, Zell, who took over with fairly high hopes.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Internet Advertising May Be Self-Limiting

Written From Redwood City, California--

Like millions of other people, I read a lot of news on the Internet. In fact, even before I have collected the Los Angeles Times and New York Times off the driveway at home in the mornings, I usually go straight to my computer to look at the morning headlines on Yahoo. When something big has happened, I will also quickly peruse the Web sites of the New York Times, L.A. Times, the Jerusalem Post, the London Times and CNN. Usually, also, I look first thing at Mark Halperin's The Page on up-to-date presidential campaign news. (Time magazine's Halperin is so up to date, I imagine he sleeps very little).

Then I bring in the newspapers, and quickly glance at the L.A. Times obituary pages, and also, usually the Sports section and editorial pages. Then, I have breakfast and do the blog, and it is sometimes afternoon or even evening before I read the newspapers in depth.

But that is not to say that the newspapers do not remain important to me. I love their detail, I spend hours a day reading them, and there is virtually no chance that I will cease subscribing, even if they do cost a combined $800 a year. The newspapers are what makes my retirement a pleasure -- that and my grandchildren, of course. After my frequent trips, I even read carefully, and thoroughly enjoy, the back issues. The subscription departments of the NYT and LAT can vouch for the fact that I never order the papers suspended when I'm away.

Even when I go on my cruise around Africa starting next month, I have ordered the International Herald Tribune delivered to my stateroom each morning, at a cost of $1.95 a day. When we're off the coast of west and east Africa, it obviously is going to have to be an electronic copy. Perhaps, one day, all newspapers will be delivered that way.

It is commonly said that the newspapers will soon sell more more advertising on the Internet. Already, the New York Times is getting 10% of its revenue by selling Internet advertising, although, with the high standards typical of the New York Times, there is usually a way to click that you want to "skip this ad," and, then, it disappears.

But it seems to me that if advertising becomes too pervasive on the Internet, the Internet will grow less popular. In short, if there is no way to skip ads on the Internet, we'll go back to television and, of course, the newspapers. Ultimately, the print editions of newspaper may recoup some of their share of the advertising dollar.

The reason I prefer advertising in newspapers to ads on the Internet is that you can easily pass over advertising while reading the newspaper, And you can get up and do something else during television programs, assuming you haven't arranged electronically to blot the ads out.

With the Internet, it might not be so easy to get rid of the ads all the time. Sometimes, you're stuck, while a pop-up ad appears, and my tolerance for those is very limited.

Indeed, with the exception of going to the Yellow Pages when I'm in need of something special, like a plumber, I try to ignore all advertiers.. I know they are the principal sustainers of the newspapers I like, but I can't help myself, I have utter disdain and even contempt for them. I stopped going to Dodger games when they put up so much advertising around the stadium that it disturbed the sightlines.

The only time I really pay attention to advertising in the papers or on the Internet is when it becomes so obtrusive and so obnoxious that I vow never to patronise whoever is doing the advertising.

This happened with Macy's when that low-life department store began buying wrap-around ads and page one ads in the L.A. Times. I promptly called on this blog for a boycott on shopping at Macy's, and I was absolutely delighted to see recently that their sales were off 7.1% and they were going to have to shut down some stores.
I know it wasn't my boycott that did this, but if my boycott cost them just one shopper, I'm delighted with it. The boycott was mentioned on one prominent blog in Chicago, and I was very pleased with the notice.

One of the greatest things about the L.A. Times is that it's easy, for the most part, to throw away whole sections, such as classified advertising, or all the advertising sections in the Saturday and Sunday papers, without so much as glancing at them.

And when Mark Willes was CEO of Times-Mirror, the most amusingly stupid things he ever said, in my estimation, was when he used to boast of the readers enjoying the advertisements.

Well, there it is. I know this blog will be shocking to David Hiller and Sam Zell if they read it, which they probably won't. But I won't change my opinions about ads.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Simon, Rutten Articles On Tragic School Shootings

Written from Redwood City, California--

Stephanie Simon is without question one of the great treasures at the L.A. Times, a profoundly humanistic reporter who regularly touches our heartstrings. But seldom has Simon written more poignantly than she did yesterday -- about the terrible string of school shootings that have, with increasing frequency, been plaguing the nation.

Simon has covered many of them, from St. Louis and Denver, traveling widely, interviewing countless people, including some of the shooters themselves. Yesterday's article asked whether there was an answer, something that could stop the murders.

No, there doesn't seem to be, she found.

Simon, like all parents and grandparents, has a personal stake in this -- three children of her own who go to school.

At the end of yesterday's article, which started on Page 1, Simon told of the advice she gave Hannah, her 10-year-old daughter, and her two younger siblings, after the latest shooting, at Northern Illinois University, killed five innocents and wounded 20 more.

"On Friday morning, my husband and I sat down with Hannah and her younger brother and sister for a talk before school," she wrote. "We told them what do if they ever spotted anyone with a gun in school: Forget calling 911. Don't worry about finding a teacher. Hit the floor. Crawl away and hide.

"I hated to scare them," Simon wrote. "But my search for answers had led to only one truth: It will happen again."

If Simon found no answer, however, columnist Tim Rutten argued in his column that one partial answer does exist: gun control. It couldn't stop every violent act, but it would reduce them.

In his column, Rutten talked not only about school shootings, but about other shootings as well, including the heroic Los Angeles police officer, Randall Simmons, shot and killed last week when his SWAT team responded to a call about a disturbed young man who had shot and killed three relatives. Ten thousand people, including police officers from all over the country, attended his funeral.

Rutten also wrote about the 14-year-old boy in Oxnard, who shot and killed another student because he didn't like his being gay, and the crank who showed up at a Missoui city council meeting and killed several people before killing himself.

And he got into the presidential campaign -- where no candidate has been much willing to even discuss the shootings, much less advocate controls on guns.

"How many times can we really stomach another politician telling us -- as Obama did Friday and President Bush did after Virginia Tech -- that their "prayers" are with the victims of that day's gun-inflicted atrocity," Rutten asked. "Prayers won't bring the dead back or make the living safer. Our children don't need prayers they need leaders with a modicum of moral courage."

As is so often the case with Rutten's columns, this was a public service. We can only hope that it won't go ignored.

Last night, I was talking with a teacher whose fellow teachers and junior high students worry about something terrible some day happening at their school.

One small change, she suggested, would help, and that would be the ability of teachers to lock classrooms from the inside in case of an emergency, a killer in the halls.

But funds have not been made available for such inside locking. Perhaps, she suggested, newspaper editorials should encourage state officials to provide them.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Nancy Pelosi And John Lewis Move Toward Obama

Because of the proportional voting rules established by the Democratic National Committee for the contest for the party's presidential nomination, it now appears that it is possible, even likely, that neither Sen. Barack Obama nor Sen. Hillary Clinton will have sufficient pledged delegates when all the state primaries and caucuses are concluded to win the nomination without the help of the 796 so-called "Super-Delegates."

But in the last 24 hours reports have appeared, most prominently in the New York Times, that party leaders -- including former Vice President Al Gore and three candidates who have pulled out of the nomination contest, former Sen. John Edwards, and Sens. Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, -- have been in private talks about assuring that the super-delegates, or at least the preponderant share of them, would move in a bloc behind the candidate who had gotten the most popular votes and/or won most of the primaries and caucuses, thus assuring the candidate who had won the plurality the nomination.

This kind of intercession may well be necessary, because the power-hungry Clintons, epitomes of moral squalor, will try to steal the nomination, even if Hillary wins fewer primaries than Obama and gets less total votes..

Don Van Natta, Jr. and Jo Becker, two New York Times reporters, say in an article appearing today in the newspaper that it appears Gore, Edwards and the others will hold off on their endorsements for now, until the situation is fully clarified, but that they are determined to avoid the divisiveness that would occur should the Democrats end up nominating not the front-runner, but the second most successful candidate in the primaries and caucuses. That result could hand the election in November to Republican Sen. John McCain, now the presumptive Republican nominee.

Right now, it appears that even should Obama narrowly lose key primaries coming up in Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania, that due to obtaining a substantial number of delegates under the proporitional system, he would still have more delegates than Clinton.

Apparently recognizing this probability, two important congressional leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and civil rights icon John Lewis of Georgia, have been moving Obama's way, even before the next primaries.

Lewis was reported in the New York Times yesterday to have told an NY'T reporter that he felt he would be with Obama at the convention, in part because Obama won a massive majority in Lewis's own predominantly black congressional district in the Atlanta area.

Meanwhile, Pelosi -- a few of whose close associates in the House have already endorsed Obama -- made statements showing that she has moved into the Obama camp on two key issues relating to the convention, even if she is not yet ready to personally endorse him.

First, Pelosi declared, "It would be a problem for the party if the verdict at the convention would be something different than the (Democratic voters) had decided (in the primaries and caucuses). This accepts the present Obama camp's view that the super-delegates should not defy the will of the largest number of the electorate.

The Clinton forces, all too aware that they are lagging in the contest for delegates, have been arguing that because Clinton carried a number of large states, such as New York, New Jersey and California, these should count more with the convention than all the smaller states that Obama has carried, even if collectively he has more delegates. Part of this argument is that the states Clinton has carried have been voting more often Democratic in recent elections than many of the states Obama has been carrying.

Second, Pelosi came out firmly against efforts by the Clinton forces to allow delegations from Florida and Michigan -- two states that moved up their primaries despite the vow by the Democratic National Committee to ban their delegates from the convention if they did so -- to vote at the convention.

Hillary Clinton carried these states, but she was the only candidate to campaign at all in them, and in doing so, she violated a pledge all the candidates, including her, had supposedly made, to skip them.

Pelosi is quoted today as saying, "We can't ignore the rules which everyone else has played by." This too puts her squarely in the Obama camp.

It may be that Pelosi and Lewis are simply leading the way for Gore, Edwards, Biden and Dodd, on the assumption that Obama's edge in delegates now will stand up through the rest of the primaries.

Also, it has to be acknowledged that the Clintons have annoyed these members of the party hierarchy by some of their tactics in the election, especially Bill Clinton playing the racial card in South Carolina, and these members might be looking for excuses to lean toward Obama.

A fight over whether to seat the Michigan and Florida delegations would be reminiscent of the credentials fight that determined the outcome of the 1952 Republican convention, one of the last that saw the struggle over a nomination actually reach the convention floor. In 1952, with the support of the independent California delegation, the Eisenhower forces were able to prevail over the Taft forces by seating several contested Southern delegations friendly to their side, even though Taft had come to the convention with a slight plurality of delegates.

As a result of leaning toward the Eisenhower side, two of the most prominent members of the California delegation, benefitted greatly. Sen. Richard Nixon was named as Eisenhower's vice presidential running mate, and Gov. Earl Warren was appointed, just after Eisenhower moved into the White House, as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In other words, bare knuckled political maneuvering won out in 1952. It is to avoid those kind of maneuvers that Gore, Edwards and others have been discussing moving the super-delegates as a bloc to whoever leads in delegates going into the convention, Obama or Clinton.

The New York Times and Time's political guru, Mark Halperin, have, not for the first time in this campaign, been far ahead in reporting on all these developments. The Los Angeles Times, in the first day of the new editorship of Russ Stanton, does not have any such story on its Web site looking forward to today's paper.


Friday, February 15, 2008

Stanton Hints At LAT Foreign & National Cutbacks

Although he is a native Californian, in that respect a welcome departure from the succession of Easterners named as editors of the Los Angeles Times, Russ Stanton has neither the wide experience nor the distinguished record of virtually everyone else named as editor of the paper in the last half century.

In all likelihood, publisher David Hiller chose Stanton, 49, because he was someone who Hiller thought would yield to his plans to reduce the scope of Times national and world coverage and make it primarily a local newspaper, thus stripping it of any wider influence. And Stanton, in his initial remarks, promptly hinted as much, saying he hoped only to "retain some of the hallmarks" of the national and foreign news reports, while beefing up local coverage.

If Stanton does largely dismantle the network of foreign and national bureaus, he is certain to go down as the worst editor in the newspaper's history. If he does not, if he resists Hiller in this regard as his predecessors did, then, like them, he probably won't last long as editor.

Stanton, it has to be acknowledged, improved the paper's Business section when he was its editor from 2005 to 2007, and he did not do badly either as Innovation editor, although the L.A. Times Web site, while improved, still lags behind those of many other papers.

But this is going to be a real test for him. He is working for a man, a corporate toady, who has no vision for the paper, and whose main devotion professionally appears to be to save his job by doing whatever his masters in Chicago tell him to do. (Hiller may ultimately leave behind him only one worthy legacy -- his approval of, endorsements of Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain for their respective party presidential nominations).

The dangers to any man of integrity in the editor's job can easily be seen in the way the Tribune Company's new owner, Sam Zell, treated the last editor fired by Hiller, James O'Shea. Zell crudely declared that in his last, noble, address to the newsroom, O'Shea had "pissed" all over the newspaper.

Of course, what Zell was doing in making such a remark was pissing on himself.

Indeed, the more I hear about many of Zell's expletives in his appearances recently at the Times and other Tribune-owned newspapers, the more I realize that he seems to be unsuitable to be a press magnate. He sounds somewhat more childishly braggadocio than William Randolph Hearst was at his worst.

I hope Stanton takes careful notes, because if he does stand up against what he calls another "ground hog" day of further staff cutbacks at the Times, following the 100 to 150 just announced, then he is going to need them for his own farewell address to the staff, and for his resume for his next, safer job.

We are now in the midst of one of what the Times endorsements called one of the most exciting presidential campaigns in American history, and Times coverage of that race has been lagging badly behind the New York Times and Washington Post, not to mention the great British newspapers. But there was precious little mention by Stanton yesterday of any plans he has for covering the presidential campaign.

Let's hope he has some vision in that regard, beyond any boyhood interests he had growing up in Tulare.

The real hope for the Times would have been for Zell to appoint a new publisher in place of Hiller, and then an editor of stature to be named as a replacement for O'Shea. Los Angeles has such people. One of the best would be Geoffrey Cowan, former head of the Voice of America and retired dean of USC's Annenberg center of journalistic education.

One appointment made by Hiller yesterday may be encouraging, and that is the assignment of Jack Klunder as "president" of Times operations. Klunder has a long and distinguished career at the paper. Indeed, he would make a good publisher, if Zell would ever shove Hiller out the door.

I suppose, we can always hope for better days. After all, O'Shea, though absent from the newsroom a good deal of the time, did end up taking an honorable stand. Zell's insulting remark about him proved that.

Maybe, Russ Stanton too will be a martyr.


The death this week of California Congressman Tom Lantos, 80, the only Holocaust survivor to ever serve in Congress, marks the end of a heroic life devoted to the service of freedom throughout the world. Lantos, as a teenager, escaped not from one, but from two Nazi concentration camps, and he was a beneficiary of the work of the great savior of Hungarian Jews, the Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, who disappeared after he fell into the grip of Stalinist Russia. When he got to Congress in 1980, Lantos was instrumental in honoring Wallenberg by authoring legislation that made him an "honorary citizen of the United States," like Sir Winston Churchill.

President George W. Bush, in paying tribute to Lantos this week, said, eloquently, "Tom was a living reminder that we must never turn a blind eye to the suffering of the innocent at the hands of evil men."

California, and particularly the Bay Area district he represented so ably for 14 terms, was fortunate to have him and his wife, a childhood sweetheart he found again after the war, as citizens.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Disorganized Hillary Proves Her Incompetence

Sen. Hillary Clinton was supposed to be the experienced, super-competent candidate, ready for the presidency "on day one," as she proclaimed repeatedly. Sen. Barack Obama was supposed to be the neophyte.

But if these perceptions were accurate, why has Clinton's campaign overspent in some states wildly, missed getting started in others altogether, and fallen into disorganization and financial difficulty, while the Obama campaign has been splendidly organized, had its priorities so straight, raised so much money at little fund raising expense, and sailed on, especially after the tie on Super Tuesday, to assume a delegate lead in the struggle for the Democratic nomination?

Partly, it's because Obama has proved to be a much better speaker and altogether a much more attractive candidate. But partly, also, it's also that Obama has proved extraordinarily competent in setting up and running a campaign, while Clinton has fallen on her face, organizationally.

Now, on the stump, she has suddenly started to pretend she is a populist. Some populist! She has been raising money in this campaign from countless special interests. She has never been a champion of the people.

Also, of course, she has had to contend with a loose cannon for an aging husband who has proved angry and inept while campaigning for her, keeping in everybody's mind the dangers of another Clinton presidency, while Obama's spouse, Michelle, has only enhanced Obama's reputation.

I think we've seen enough to come to the conclusion that a second Clinton presidency would be disastrous, repeating very likely in Hillary Clinton's case the debacle her development of a health care reform plan turned into in the first year of the first Clinton presidency, before Bill Clinton pulled the plug.

When one reads in the Wall Street Journal this morning how various members of the Clinton campaign command have erupted in recent days, screaming accusations at one another as they argued over ads and strategy, it is frightening to imagine this happening in some kind of security crisis in the White House. As everyone lost his or her temper, Mrs. Clinton would undoubtedly tear up, as she did in Portsmouth, N.H., and at Yale University, while husband Bill flew off to Kazakhstan to make a new mining deal with the dictator there.

This morning, we are treated to three fascinating articles, in the Journal, the Guardian in Britain, and the New York Times, of the increasing desperation in the Clinton camp as its campaign struggles to aright itself.

The lead by Michael Tomasky, the incisive analyst for the Guardian, in his article this morning, creates a strong impression.

"Remember the common scene from old spy movies, in which the hero is trapped in a small room or an elevator, and suddenly the walls start closing in on him," Tomasky writes.

"That's where Hillary Clinton is today. She's not yet gasping, as the walls begin to press up against her. But she's noticed that they're moving and she needs to think fast."

Outlining what has been going wrong in detail, are New York Times reporters Patrick Healy and Katherine Seelye, in an article headlined "Knocked Off Balance, Clinton Campaign Tries to Regain Its Stride."

According to this lengthy article, the Clinton staff and particularly its departed manager, Patti Solis Doyle, were extremely slow to get organized or failed entirely to organize, in a number of the states whose caucuses and primaries were either on or followed Super Tuesday. The staff, like Hillary herself, may have assumed they would have crushed Obama by Super Tuesday, Feb. 5, or at least squashed him in New York, New Jersey and California that day, and not need to worry about other states.

The result has been a string of defeats in Midwestern and Western states on Super Tuesday, and in contests that followed it, which have turned the campaign on its ear, and given Obama unexpected momentum.

In Idaho, Healy and Seelye report, Obama began getting organized a year before the Feb. 5 caucuses. By the time the caucuses took place, he had five offices in the state and 20 paid staff members. Obama himself campaigned in Boise, drawing 14,000 cheering people to the biggest arena in the state.

By contrast, Clinton did virtually nothing, except send her supporter, Maria Cantwell, the U.S. senator from neighboring Washington state, into Idaho at the last minute. The result should have easily been foreseen: Obama won the caucuses by 62 points and took the preponderant number of the state's delegates.

Healy and Seelye give a number of other examples -- superior Obama organization in Minnesota, Utah, North Dakota, Washington and Maine, which brought smashing victories in all those states.

In part, it may have been because the Clinton campaign squandered its early fund raising edge over Obama, spending too much on fund raising events and pouring money and staff into Iowa when it belatedly began to appreciate that Obama was taking the lead there, and then, falling into fund raising problems, not having enough for other states, even if it had begun to perceive they might be important in a protracted race for the nomination.

Even now, it's reported this morning, the Clinton campaign, while calling for volunteers to come from California and other states into Texas, to campaign for her there in the March 4 primary, isn't willing, or perhaps able, to pay travel expenses for the volunteers. And it has turned down the plea of its supporter, Gov. Edward Rendell of Pennsylvania, for a mailing preceding that state's April 22 primary.

Well, both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, go into this ad infinitum.

But the question that cannot be ignored is: Do we want such organizational screw ups as Hillary Clinton and her staff to take over the White House at a time when terrorists threaten, when economic problems mount, and her husband's corruption continues?

Pardon me for waking up before the cows come home, but I think not.


More tomorrow on the depressing news that the L.A. Times is in for new downsizing, buyouts and layoffs, including 40 to 50 in the newsroom. It shows, among other things, that the carcass of fired CEO Dennis FitzSimons, who never wanted to do anything but cut, may not have yet been carted from the executive board room in Chicago.

An early, constructive move by Sam Zell might be to appoint a new publisher in Los Angeles, with local business experience. But it's important too to stop using the profits at the L.A. Times to support the rest of a failing company. It must be recognized, we are living through hard times in the newspaper business, but the Times shouldn't shoulder the whole burden.


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

GOP Conservatives Will End Up Backing McCain

Like dying fish flailing without hope on the beach, such conservative commentators as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, and the evangelical leader, James Dobson, are suggesting that they won't back Sen. John McCain when he is the Republican presidential nominee.

They can't possibly really mean it. They won't support Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. Hillary Clinton, when one of them (it looks this morning most likely Obama) is the Democratic nominee, there is going to be no strong Third Party conservative candidate, and, as the election approaches, they will see they have no alternative but to back McCain. Where else can they go? Nowhere.

That's why all the suggestions from political commentators that McCain must somehow focus on tacking to the right and proving ad infinitum reassurance to conservative Republicans that he is really and truly one of them is nonsense.

The fact is that, beyond running as the best candidate for commander in chief, on the security platform which would be his strongest suit against Obama, McCain can lose no time in emphasizing his maverick and independent tendencies. For his own good, he must start moving even further to the center without delay.

The economy isn't good. There is strong sentiment for revisions in U.S. foreign policy along some of the lines Obama and Hillary have both been suggesting, Democratic voter turnouts in the primaries are running twice the Republican, and, unless McCain is inventive, he is very likely to be swept aside in a Democratic landslide. Obama, I think, would be a heavy favorite to defeat him, and even Hillary might be likely to do so, by a narrower margin.

McCain, who is too honorable a man to try to use the race issue against Obama, has no reasonable options but to appeal to independents, and just assume that conservatives, because they have no alternatives, will be dragged along.

Besides that, even many conservatives and evangelicals have changed, becoming more moderate. The days when the Baptists down South routinely wouldn't let their daughters go to the movies or swim with boys, have very largely dissipated. As the election approaches, I'm sure most of these folks will come to realize that McCain is quite acceptable to them.

Even a strong Republican (on most occasions) like me, may however, feel attracted to Obama for idealistic reasons. You might ask why this is so.

I would answer by telling you of an experience I used to have while working at the L.A. Times. I used to often pass through the Globe lobby, always my favorite entrance to the paper, and there I'd see the bust of Gen. Harrison Grey Otis, founder of the modern Times, and read the bio affixed to it that said Otis had attended the Republican convention in Chicago in 1860 that nominated Abraham Lincoln for president.

But it did not say that Otis had been among the delegates who actually voted for Lincoln. It left the impression that he had opposed him. Maybe, he was a supporter of Chase or Seward, one of whom was thought likely to be the nominee. And I used to think to myself that I would not want to look back on the 1860 convention, were I Otis, and recall that I had not supported Lincoln.

Well, this year, I'm not at all sure I'd want to remember later that I did not vote for Obama. The poet Walt Whitman once said that every time he saw Lincoln walking in the streets of Washington, he always thought to himself that he wanted to be on Lincoln's side. Well, whenever I hear Obama speak so inspirationally, as he did last night in Madison, Wisconsin, celebrating his victories in the Virginia, Maryland and District of Columbia primaries, I confess to a strong feeling I want to be on Obama's side.

Many other Republicans may also be seduced in a similar way.

That is not to say McCain is not an attractive candidate as well, and that his record of heroism in the Vietnam war doesn't command admiration. Even Obama habitually refers to McCain as a war hero and joins in the thanks to him for his service. On Dec. 26, this blog endorsed both of them for their respective party nominations.

McCain last night, borrowing a phrase from Obama, said he was "all fired up and ready to go." I have no doubt he will give his all to the race, and, one never knows, developments in the Middle East or elsewhere may bring security issues that favor McCain back to the fore.

But at the same time, it has to be rememberd that Obama is 46 years old and McCain 71, and that this would be the biggest age difference between presidential candidates in the history of the U.S. It's difficult to envision the younger man not winning.


This morning comes the excellent news that someone -- perhaps Israeli or American special forces -- have successfully blown the Hezbollah terrorist Imad Mughniyeh, to Kingdom Come in Damascus, Syria.

Mughniyeh was identified long ago as a key perpetrator of the attack that killed 241 U.S. Marines and 58 French soldiers in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983. He was believed to have been instrumental also in a deadly bombing at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, in the kidnapping of cleric Terry Waite and the kidnapping and murder of William Buckley, CIA station chief in Beirut. He was responsible for the murder of the U.S. Navy diver, Robert Stethem, in the hijacking of TWA flight 847 to Beirut in 1985. And he may have been responsible for the Iranian-backed bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed many innocents.

Whoever finally got rid of him this morning should have all our compliments, and thanks.

In response to the elimination of Mughniyeh, Hassan Nasrallah, the Iranian stooge who leads Hezbollah from a hiding place, vowed to strike at Israeli interests throughout the world. When Nasrallah is found, he must quickly be eliminated as well.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

L.A. Times Needs More Color In Political Coverage

It need hardly be said that we are at an unusually dramatic time in American politics. Three galvanic candidates -- Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain -- have aroused enthusiasms, boosted voter turnout, focused the issues involving the succession to the Bush Administration, and in the process created the political story of the generation, and possibly a political story as significant as in the greatest election years of the American Republic -- 1800, 1860 and 1932.

Time magazine's Web site called "The Page," written, it sometimes seems almost 24 hours a day by Mark Halperin, has risen to the occasion as well as any of the media. The cable news network, CNN, has distinguished itself, especially on primary election nights. The British newspapers, the London Times and the Guardian, have contributed incisive commentary. The Washington Post has displayed sweepingly comprehensive and provocative coverage. Columnists David Broder in the Post and David Brooks and Frank Rich in the New York Times have provided brilliant backdrops. And the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have been quite good. Under the new ownership of Rupert Murdoch, the Journal's political coverage has been greatly expanded.

Some editorial pages have also risen to the occasion. I'm thinking, in particular, of the Columbia (So. Carolina) State, Los Angeles Times and La Opinion editorials supporting the Obama candidacy and criticizing shortcomings of the Clinton candidacy and the boorishness of former Presidant Bill Clinton. It was a particularly nice touch that the L.A. Times endorsements of Oboma and McCain were moved to the front page of the Opinion section and made the subject ofbeautiful portrait-style photographs that day, and an article in the news section touting them the day before. Both of these gestures were commensurate the with intense public interest in the 2008 presidential contest.

All that said, I'm disappointed in the political coverage in the news sections of the L.A. Times. The Times is making an effort, but its coverage, with the exception of Peter Wallsten and occasional other pieces, has not been up to the level of the Washington Post and New York Times. Oftentimes, the reporting has not been dramatic enough to fit the occasion. Sometimes, as in the case of Janet Hook, it has leapt to the wrong conclusions. And it has not been marked with the scoops which so often have been a part of the Post and NYT coverage.

Rather than write a memo, as they did this morning, taking exception to new L.A. Times owner Sam Zell's language and advising Times personnel not to emulate him, managing editors John Arthur and John Montorio and personnel manager Susan Denley would have been better advised in my view to take steps to stimulate more interesting political coverage.

I won't be shy with my advice at this critical juncture. Wallsten ought to be promoted to be the senior political news writer. Doyle McManus, chief of the Washington bureau, should be encouraged to write more, and even more interpretively. On the editorial page, Tim Rutten ought to be freed from the present restrictions on his new Op Ed page column to write about national politics for the duration of the campaign year. And perhaps George Skelton in Sacramento should periodically be detailed to write about the dramatic situation nationwide in his column. As a former White House correspondent, he certainly has an historical view.

Also, I think some of the younger reporters of the Times who have displayed initiative -- Matea Gold (who covered some politics four years ago), Tami Abd0llah, Ron Lin -- and others should be given special supporting political assignments, to catch the fresh perspective they might be able to bring. Give them a chance, and the editors might be pleasantly surprised.

I would not even hesitate to bring some of the most perceptive foreign writers -- Kim Murphy, Borzou Daragahi and even Megan Stack -- home for brief assignments to bring their talents to bear on the situation. If this were done, it should be done for the Ohio and Texas primaries and the Democratic National Convention, if the Obama-Clinton contest still rages. Even foreign editorials writer Sonni Efron might be enlisted as a writing observer.

I can't forget the advice of Frank Haven, Bill Thomas and Ed Guthman when I was assigned, as a young reporter (30 at the time) to cover the political campaign of Eugene McCarthy in the spring of 1968.

"Feel free to be interpretive," they said. "Give us the color of what you see. Think anew and act anew about political coverage."

And they meant it. Guthman drove the point home every day, and Haven, Thomas and I were on the same wave length. Bob Donovan, then the Washington bureau chief, was under the same orders (and it was easier for him, because he was a better writer than I was and had a lot more experience).

The Times needs to move in some of the same directions now. It has to loosen up. It shouldn't virtually ignore dramatic occasions like the Maria Shriver appearance at UCLA to endorse Obama. It's got to dig into the pathos of the present Clinton campaign, and keep up with its last ditch efforts in Texas and Ohio to turn back the Obama insurgency. It needs to better examine the multiple challenges facing McCain and the almost moribund Republican party. And it needs to dig more trenchantly into the voting screw ups in last week's California primary. Specifically, it needs to examine very critically why, a week after the election, we still have nearly two million votes uncounted. There is nothing so consistent as California's terrible habit of letting elections hang in the balance for weeks, as it did in 1960 and now is doing the same.

It is one thing for Zell and publisher David Hiller to talk about enhancing the Web site and covering local news. But now they face a truly newsworthy situation. The other priorities can and must wait until the present national political events get the coverage they deserve.


For a good example of the nonsenical claptrap L.A. Times Op Ed Page editor Nick Goldberg loves to run, go today to the column by Jonah Goldberg claiming that Obama's idealism is "hogwash." Goldberg frequently is foolish. In this column, he outdid even himself.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Under Zell, L.A. Times May Use More Expletives

The Los Angeles Times, during almost all of the 39 years I worked for it, was inappropriately staid. It would not use profane language even when it was most advisable as a service to the readers to do so. Now, thank goodness, under the new owner, Sam Zell, that may change.

In several visits with the Times staff and on forays elsewhere in the Tribune empire, Zell, who associates say is not above smoking a little marijuana on occasion, has used the word "fuck" and other terms banned in his newspapers in the past. Sometimes, he has slipped over the line, such as his use of the word "pussy," during a visit last week to the Times' Orange County plant. But most of the time, he has just been salty, using profanity to make a point, and often a good one.

(It should also be noted that on his visit to the Times printing plant in Los Angeles, someone told him that employees there had long and fruitlessly sought installation of a pool table so they could play pool during the breaks. According to my friend Ed Padgett, Zell promptly ordered the installation of three pool tables in different Times locations. This is really a welcome sign that, like the Chandlers in past years, Zell cares something about the morale of the staff. One of the reasons the Tribune Co. fell into so much trouble with Times employees before Zell bought the company was that the former CEO, Dennis FitzSimons, seemed to hate Los Angeles and not care about employee morale).

In the supposed interest of being "a family newspaper," the L.A. Times for many years had a firm policy against running expletives.

One of the few times an exception was made was when the White House tapes were released in the 1970s illustrating the profanity used every other moment by President Richard Nixon and his staff. It was decided this was so integral to the story that on this occasion, in printing quotes from the transcripts, the Times would use some of the words Nixon used.

The first time this happened, Frank Haven, then the Times managing editor, emerged from his office, and said something to the effect, "This is the day! For the first time, we're going to have 'shit' on Page one." But a staff member immediately interjected, "Frank, it's not the first time we've had shit on Page one."

Afterwards, there were gradually more times when such words as "damn" and "hell," rather mild profanities by contemporary standards, made it into the Times.

But when John Carroll was named editor, named by the Tribune Co. to replace Michael Parks as editor when it purchased the paper in 2000, Carroll promptly banned all such words. He said these were not in accord with the image the Times should wish to project. I thought that this was one of those occasions when Carroll went too far. Under him, even the word "hell" was routinely excised from stories.

Still, Carroll was not as bad in some regards as Mark Willes had been when he became CEO of Times-Mirror and publisher of the Times in the 1990s. Willes, a devout Mormon who actually was a nephew of the leader of the worldwide Mormon church at the time, ordered that the stunningly beautiful Picassos purchased by Dorothy Chandler and put on display in the Times executive dining room, which was then renamed the Picasso Room, be removed, because, he explained, the nudity in some of the pictures would "offend my grandchildren."

Right then, we should have realized that Willes was not going to be a success in the newspaper business. (Willes was fond, also, of saying that he wanted to "take down the wall" between the editorial and advertising departments at Times-Mirror newspapers. This attitude led directly to the Staples scandal which resulted in Willes having Times-Mirror sold out from underneath him to the Tribune).

Willes' morality was subject to some doubt. When he was finally terminated, with a severance package that totaled at least $64 million, and perhaps over $100 million, he even took with him the soft drinks in his office refrigerator.

Everything thus far indicates that Zell is made of a different cloth. Although in his religion, the word "Zion," is often used, it does not mean the same thing exactly as the "Zion" so often used by the Mormons.

I should say, I have nothing against the Mormons in general. My father's roommate at the Naval Academy was a Mormon from Brigham City, Utah, and when I went to Washington, D.C., as a boy of 15, he, by then an Admiral in the Pentagon, fell all over himself to be nice to me.

The Times can probably afford to catch up with America and American language as it is today. So I was happy to see, in Sunday's Opinion section, an article by Gustavo Arellano, chastising the paper for being "hilariously dowdy" in not reporting exactly what Zell, "its loose-lipped boss," had said in employee meetings. After all, Arellano pointed out, his words could soon be found on the Internet, while not appearing in his own newspaper.

It would certainly not have come as a shock to the elite Los Angeles Civic Alliance, business and professional leaders who had met with Zell a few months before at the Times and heard first hand his earthy way of speaking.

And while we're talking about becoming more modern and explicit, the Times ought to reconsider some of the polite words it uses to describe evil-doers in the world.

In an editorial Sunday the newspaper again refers to "militants" in discussing the Al-Qaeda operatives who last week tied bombs to two women with Down's syndrome and sent them into two toy markets in Baghdad to commit suicide bombings that killed 99 of the patrons, including many children. According to reports, they had not bothered to inform the Down's syndrome bombers what they were carrying.

These people are not "militants" but foul mass murderers, and the Times should not hesitate to call them what they are. The paper's readers will certainly understand.