Saturday, May 31, 2008

New Layoffs Rumored Impending At L.A. Times

In their invitation to the vainglorious jackass who is the Tribune Co. toady publisher at the L.A. Times, David Hiller, to sing the National Anthem on June 5 at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers are showing us why they have been something of a disappointment this year. If they honor a jerk like Hiller, no wonder they imported a manager from New York City who is past his prime.

Kevin Roderick asks in LA Observed today, "Does Hiller sing like Nero fiddled?" In light of spreading rumors that Hiller is about to launch a new round of layoffs targeting editors and perhaps veteran reporters, he will be singing at Dodger Stadium the way Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

However, Nero may have been a more farsighted administrator than Hiller or his bosses, Randy Michaels and Sam Zell. The Roman Empire outlasted Nero. It is not so clear that the L.A. Times will outlast Hiller, Michaels and Zell.

Roderick reports that Russ Stanton, the Times' editor and Hiller appointee who has the intellect of a flea, invited some, but not all, of the younger reporters at the Times in and told them that a couple of rough months loom at the Times, but that they need not worry. The implication was that others on the paper's staff need worry. These are especially the survivors who have struggled up to now against all the oddballs at Tribune Co. to keep the newspaper decent.

Stanton's predecessors, the fired editors, Dean Baquet and James O'Shea, and the editor who grew discouraged and quit, John Carroll, all resisted cutbacks at the paper ordered by the men of little business vision in Chicago. Stanton, it is becoming clear, would, if ordered to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge, ask only, "When?"

Other papers, including the New York Times and Washington Post, have recently had big buyouts and/or layoffs. But the L.A. Times has gone down, down, down in circulation, advertising revenue and staff numbers faster than just about any paper in the country.

Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch's new acquisition, the Wall Street Journal, continues to build circulation and staff. Murdoch is no Nero, or Hiller.

If indeed new layoffs are in the offing at the L.A. Times, the termination packages are not apt to be generous ones. Mark Willes and Dennis FitzSimons walked off with "golden parachutes" worth many millions of dollars, and those taking the last buyout got as much as a year's pay in farewell, but Stanton and Hiller warned at the time of that buyout, just a few months ago, that those who didn't take it couldn't expect that the packages the next time would be as good.

When Hiller leaves, however or, more likely is ousted, I can assure you that he will get a generous golden parachute, worth a lot more than singing the National Anthem at Dodger Stadium. Those getting such parachutes need never eat the horrible Chicago food again.

The L.A. Times, for the average staffer, isn't worth working for these days, and as Stanton and Hiller proceed with changing the paper, it won't be worth reading either. This is a downward spiral without end, unless there would be, God be praised, a new owner with California-sized ambitions. Then Hiller, Stanton, Michaels and Zell could be shoveled under without the least regret.


Whatever happened to Hiller and Stanton's promises to improve the Times web site? Hours after the decision by the Rules committee of the Democratic National Committee Saturday to give Florida and Michigan only half-votes at the Democratic National Convention, the L.A. Times web site still was posting a story written six hours before the decision saying there would be a decision. At the same time, the New York Times web site had a full story on the decision.

We know Hiller and Stanton don't work on Saturdays. But what about the people at the web site? A shocking dereliction of duty on the biggest story of the day.


Friday, May 30, 2008

A "Face-Lift" Of Prop.13 Will Not Be At All Easy

Both Bill Stall, a retired Pulitzer Prize winner for the L.A. Times, and Times state political columnist George Skelton have, most appropriately, been writing about California's ever more critical fiscal problems. Inspiration has come from editorial writer Bob Greene and editorial pages editor Jim Newton.

Looking far back in modern history, to the French Revolution, we can't forget that it began with a French fiscal crisis. The Estates-General was summoned to meet in the spring of 1789, because, over many years, the French government had been running out of money, its taxing system was inadequate, and the Revolution soon began. The deliberative body began talking May 5, 1789, and the Bastille fell just two months and nine days later, thrusting France into eventual chaos. When it was all over, after the reign of terror, Napoleon Bonaparte came to power.

Well, as Skelton and Stall have pointed out, and which really cannot be contradicted, California too is saddled with an antiquated, unworkable budget and tax process, and it would seem that reform or even upset, if not revolution, has to be around the corner. The state's needs exceed its tax revenues, and, more and more, a succession of fiscal tricks has not been able to resolve the discrepancy.

Skelton has concentrated on the obstacles in the Schwarzenegger Administration, and the Legislature, to passing a reasonable budget. The governor, after five long years of pledging no new taxes, now has come around to the concept. But he may not be able to command necessary legislative support.

Stall, in an Op Ed Page column yesterday, takes finally a more dire view than Skelton, who usually writes more about process than basic change. Stall, who also was a former gubernatorial press secretary under Jerry Brown, says the time has come for "a fair revision" of Proposition 13 under which property tax increases are supposedly limited to 2% a year, and assessments of real property value are not changed until a property is sold. Even then, they are capped at 1% of assessed property value. (Bond issues approved by the voters mean that in practice increases beyond these limits do occur, but not enough in most cases to allow the state to meet its needs).

Stall recognizes that reform will not be easy, and to get by the loathing of homeowners, particularly those straining to meet higher mortgage rates and living on fixed, or in inflationary terms, declining real incomes, he proposes that any change in Proposition 13 continue to protect their interests. But he would lift prohibitions on increases in commercial property taxes. Also, he would scrap the measure's requirement that tax increases secure a two thirds majority.

That's where he lost me in his column. He probably felt the column was long enough already, or maybe his editors did. But I don't think you can realistically consider any major change in Proposition 13 without considering the fact that both major parties in the Legislature, not to mention the governor's office, are owned by business interests. These entities are so corrupt that the notion they might voluntarily vote against the interests of their own major campaign contributors is close to impossible. Big special interests have the Legislature and the governor in their grip, and little of substance can occur until that grip is broken. We shouldn't hold our breath.

It was Bismarck who once made the sardonic crack that legislating, like sausage making, cannot be too carefully watched, because the process is too grim. The sausage making by the California Legislature is apt to be poisonous.

No, if Proposition 13 is going to be revised, this will take an initiative campaign, and, as we know, those are often fraught with almost insuperable difficulties. Those popular with the voters are often unacceptable to the courts, because they tend to be written in extravagant and constitutionally questionable terms. And the arguments made pro and con such initiatives sink into the irrationality of one-page campaign mailings and 30-second commercials.

Frankly, I have no idea how this will all turn out. It is true that progress in California is being stymied, the investments we need to make in our future are not forthcoming, the state is falling behind others with more reasonable tax systems. But the real-time political situation has led steadily toward paralysis, and it's going to take more than Skelton or Stall and all their progressive thoughts to bring about real change.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

DNC Should Resist Placating Slimy Clinton Forces

It is vitally necessary, out of fairness, and with regard to Democratic chances in the fall election campaign, that the Democratic National Committee group that meets Saturday to consider the matter of the Florida and Michigan delegations, not take any step that would placate the ugly Hillary Clinton effort to break rules she once agreed to, or would recognize the results of the spurious primaries in those states.

If the DNC group, the Rules and Bylaws committee, feels sitting any delegations from Michigan and Florida at the Democratic National Convention is advisable, and I think the country as a whole will understand if it does not, then the number of Hillary and Obama delegates seated should be equal, so that nothing will be done to change the ultimate course of the convention, or give Hillary any excuse for continuing a campaign which long ago on her part turned divisive and ugly.

Hillary has been beaten by Obama, fair and square. Hopefully, her political career will be over after her current term in the Senate. Her remark in South Dakota suggesting that she would stay in the race just in case Obama were assassinated went so far beyond the pale of ordinary political discourse, and was so repugnant and ugly, that the country should be through with Hillary Clinton from now forevermore.

Let's review the facts. All the Democratic presidential candidates agreed that since Florida and Michigan violated party rules, by setting their primaries too early, they would not campaign in those states, nor would those states have representation at the convention.

Obama, who customarily adheres to the highest ethical standards, observed those rules. He didn't campaign in either state and his name was not even on the ballot in Michigan.

But Hillary, unlike all the other candidates, violated the rules. She made appearances in both states, and now she argues that the delegates from both states chosen in the spurious primaries should be seated.

Already, there are hints that Hillary and her husband, the nefarious former President Bill Clinton, will cause trouble for Obama in the fall, if they can. Bill Clinton remarked this week that the press had been prejudiced against his wife, and before much longer it seems likely that the Clintons will be talking in general about conspiracies to destroy her chances in the entire race. The Clintons love to see conspiracies when, in fact, they are responsible for their own failures.

Another matter that is of concern at Saturday's meeting is the influence of this election campaign on future ones. If the Democratic National Committee doesn't stick with the rules it set in this go-around, it will be an open invitation for states to ignore them in the future, with multiple negative effects in 2012 and beyond.

So the DNC group must stand by its principles on Saturday. The Clintons have been trying to organize demonstrations outside the meeting. Obama's campaign has wisely asked his supporters not to demonstrate.

Let's hope all goes well, and there is a stand on principle. If not, Democratic chances in this election, not to mention future ones, may be compromised.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What To Do About Tyrants A Key Issue In 2008

It was the poet W.H. Auden who suggested Hitler was "a psychopathic god," and wrote the classic short poem, "Epitaph On A Tyrant." It is certainly pertinent to the security debate now raging in the presidential campaign that I quote it here:

"Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand
He knew human folly like the back of his hand
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter
And when he cried, the little children died in the streets"

That is not just a fanciful poem. In the world today, we have tyrants like that: Than Shwe in Burma, Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Bashir Assad in Syria, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran. There are others in The Sudan and Belarus. Not to mention terrorist leaders who call for the extinction of Israel, but primarily just slaughter other Muslims.

Just today, there are reports that Al-Qaeda is vowing to obtain nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and use them against the West. This is no more fanciful than Auden's poem: It could actually happen. Who is the new American president will be preoccupied with trying to see it doesn't happen.

That's a good reason that the vital debate over the security of the United States and other free nations shouldn't be just a series of gaffes, one-liners and provocative television spots.

The fact that Barack Obama refers to his great-uncle liberating Auschwitz when he should have said Buchenwald is not consequential. Neither is a Hillary Clinton ad suggesting she is ready for a call about a terrorist attack at 3 a.m., while Obama as president would not be. And neither are the one-liners John McCain is fond of throwing out: "I will never surrender in Iraq." "We might be there 100 years."

The trouble with the last, by the way, is not that McCain is not expressing his true sentiments. It is just that the American people will never have the patience to keep armed forces in Iraq for 100 years. Unless our leaders can figure out how to wind this operation up expeditiously, we are going to lose in Iraq, or at least have to concentrate the War on Terror somewhere else.

As we go forward in the fall campaign, I hope it's not just a tit-for-tat between McCain and Obama to see which one can one-up the other. I'm sure both men will be diligent campaigners, leaving no stone unturned in their efforts. It's obvious that neither is lazy.

But what is most important is that it be a substantive discussion, that it draw out each of the candidates to give us a clear idea of how they think, how they would begin confronting the pro0blems we face, in short what kind of president each would be. That is what individual voters have to decide for themselves in choosing how to vote.

We haven't always had that in campaigns. Lyndon Johnson ran as the peace candidate in 1964, but within three weeks of his inauguration sharply expanded the fruitless war in Vietnam. Woodrow Wilson ran in 1916 on the slogan, "He kept us out of war," but a month after his inauguration called for, and got, a declaration of war against Germany. Even Franklin D. Roosevelt wasn't completely candid about the options facing the U.S. in 1940.

Can we do better this time?

I'm not at all adverse to McCain's suggestion that he and Obama campaign on occasion together throughout the country with a series of discussions about the issues. It would not be necessary to have ambitious, attention-seeking reporters moderate these talks, thus possibly avoiding the pointless negative questioning of some recent candidate encounters. Maybe, it wouldn't work, but I think it's worth trying. I see no merit, however, in McCain's suggestion that he and Obama take a trip to Iraq together.

We already know, to their credit, that neither McCain nor Obama want to make much of divisive racial issues. Both have denounced religious supporters who were peddling hate and nonsense. Both have fired campaign advisors who decided to go off on their own tacks. We have the sense that both want to be good presidents, and, are not, as the Clintons have been doing, simply grabbing for power.

But the two candidates do profoundly differ with each other on such issues as talking with our enemies, Iraq, and, as it will likely develop, a whole range of other issues.

So, let's go ahead. Let's not cede the field to clever lobbies, fake advertising arrangers, and people with hidden agendas. The times are critical. It is to be hoped that our democracy will live up to them.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bill Is An Even Worse Sore Loser Than Hillary

If Bill Clinton had only gone to visit his buddy, the dictator of Kazakhistan, at the beginning of the American presidential campaign, and stayed there, saying nothing, he would have served his wife, Hillary's, interests better.

The poor man just cannot pent up his anger, or keep his mouth shut, and in the present context, it is not doing the Democratic party any good at all, hurting Barack Obama's chances in the fall.

I think even Hillary might not have wandered into what the New York Times has called "disturbing racial undertones" in her campaign, had not Bill gone there first, with his remarks in and after the South Carolina primary. For this former governor of a Deep South state, the prospect of a black man like Obama winning all those white votes was just too much.

Now, Bill is suggesting the press has been biased against his wife, and it won't be long before he is threatening her Senate career by suggesting her fellow senators have been unfair to her. (Twenty Democratic senators have endorsed Obama, while only 13 have endorsed Hillary, and none since February).

It is easy to say Hillary should have shooed Bill off long ago. But the trouble is that she wouldn't be a major political figure in the first place without her association with him. So she had to be moderately nice, for fear reports of marital discord would hurt her campaign.

If Bill really cared a jot for her, he'd have been much more careful about his temperamental outbursts. That should certainly have been possible. (After all, Chelsea Clinton has never embarrassed her mom throughout this long, difficult campaign).

Now, the Clintons, by fighting on to the bitter end, are spoiling their own political futures, beyond just jeopardizing Democratic chances in the fall. The Washington Post has a piece this morning raising the question about Hillary's future in the Senate. It notes that Harry Reid of Nevada has solidified his position atop the Democratic leadership, and that other leadership positions, at least in the short term, might be difficult for her to obtain. They are only becoming more difficult as she refused to bow out quietly in the Democratic race and endorse Obama.

It would be interesting to know what Bill and Hillary are saying between themselves at this point. That is, if they're still talking with one another.


In the June 3 primary election next week, I'd like to endorse State Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas over City Councilman Bernard Parks for the supervisorial seat of the retiring Yvonne Brathwaite Burke.

I knew Ridley-Thomas for many years as a political reporter, and found him able and conscientious. Parks, on the other hand, as Los Angeles police chief, was quite a rigid personality too prone to stick to hard positions. The Board of Supervisors, in my view, would do better with Ridley-Thomas.

Other than that, I'm opposed to Proposition 98, another sop to business interests that would, among other bad features, do away with rent control.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Back To L.A. Times After Trip, And Glad Of It

When I got back home from my cruise around Africa, there were 74 days of the L.A. Times waiting for me, and I've begun wading into them. Just this morning, I was happy to see John Johnson's comprehensive coverage of the latest Mars exploratory landing, and to note that it was far lengthier and far more prominently played than the New York Times coverage of the same event.

Of course, the L.A. Times has a three hour time advantage. The New York Times ran no picture, because apparently none was in when they went to press. but the L.A. Times had fine photographs from the scene, one showing the lay of the land around where the spacecraft put down.

Altogether it's good to get back to he newspaper. On the cruise ship Prinzsendam, I received an electronic copy of the International Herald Tribune six days a week, and this paper was not bad. Its foreign coverage is as good as any paper's and it has the use not only of New York Times articles, but of a few of its own correspondents. The net effect is an entirely professional operation.

But the L.A. Times has a broader view, is bigger in size by far. More in the days ahead about any changes I've noticed in the paper.

One change I've noticed in the New York Times already is that for reasons which may indicate the design editors of the NYT have gone crazy, it has now introduced summaries on Pages 2 and 3 of the main news section of what is to be found in the rest of the paper.

These annoyed me when such summaries appeared in the L.A. Times, because (1) it is fun to turn the paper page by page and sometimes be surprised with what is on on the inside pages, and (2) it effectly reduces the news hole.

Finally, after getting rid of Joe Hutchinson, the L.A. Times dropped its summary pages and was the better for it. Foreign news was soon moved into those pages.

Now, what has happened? Has Hutchinson gone to work for the New York Times?


Saturday, May 24, 2008

My 20,000-Mile Voyage Is Over--Impressions

I came home from my long cruise around Africa last night, and, thank goodness, it was on Lufthansa Airlines, which still believes in customer service. On the flights from Seville to Lisbon, then on to Munich and finally nonstop to Los Angeles, they actually served food in coach, plenty of it, and drinks of water and other beverages often enough to escape dehydration. The stewardesses and other staff were uniformly pleasant. All three airports were quite efficient. No London-Heathrow yesterday. Even with oil at $135 a barrel, some airlines are still doing the job they are supposed to do. Lufthansa even had big racks of the most prominent newspapers of both Europe and America in the Munich Airport, free for coach and first class passengers alike. It was an encouraging reminder that newspapers remain important.

The trip on the Holland-America liner Prinsendam was worth the more than $40,000 I paid for it. It was a way to see a continent I had scarcely visited, only have been before in Morocco, Kenya and Ethiopia. On this long voyage of more than 20,000 miles, my favorite places were South Africa, Egypt and Malta, where I celebrated 100 countries visited, a lifelong goal.

Don't get me wrong, a cruise ship is no place to learn a great deal about the countries visited. The ship was usually in and out of ports in only one day, often just a few hours of a single day, and the tours offered from the ship were both costly and once-over-lightly.

But in my physical condition, at age 70, the ship offers enticements. You don't have to pack and repack. There are relaxing days at sea for reading and listening to lectures, watching movies and getting to know fellow passengers and the crew, many of whom on the Prinsendam were wonderful people, eager to please.

And you do form some impressions. I cannot forget the poverty we saw in many places, but particularly The Gambia and Togo. Cairo was more splendid in parts and diversified than I had been expecting, and Egyptians were friendlier than I imagined they would be, perhaps because many realize that tourism is one of the economic salvations of modern Egypt. Still, I wondered how the Egyptian motorist feels, kept waiting for long periods, so that an armed convoy of tourists can run through intersections at high speed.

Security everywhere on the trip was tight, but particularly in Egypt, Kenya and along the coast of Somalia, where we had numerous police escorts and the ships are closed off in the ports from any outsiders. All port gates are strongly protected, and as we passed by Somalia, for four days we had an escort from a heavily armed Dutch Navy frigate.

In South Africa and Namibia, from what we saw, the minority white population remains prosperous, often holds the best jobs, and seems comfortable and secure. The teeming black slums are something else, however. We had not long left South Africa when riots broke out in these slums and more than 40 "illegal immigrants" from Zimbabwe and Mozambique were murdered.

The resort islands we visited in the Indian Ocean -- Reunion, Mauritius and the Seychelles Islands -- were not quite as fancy as I had pictured. You are better off going to Hawaii.

The intellectual curiousity of many of the mostly elderly passengers on the Prinsendam was limited. With a few exceptions, they did not seem terribly interested either in the politics or the living conditions of the countries visited. I was quite impressed with myself, reaching my goal of 100 countries. But I found many passengers who had been on so many cruises that they no longer kept track how many countries they had stopped in. In any event, it was far more than 100, and there was one lady on the Prinsendam who had been on the ship as a passenger for a year.

I got along famously with my table mates each night at dinner. In the assigned seating, I found myself with an elegant lady from Georgia and Florida, a couple from Portland, Ore. and two ladies from Tacoma, Wash. We all became quite friendly.

My room steward, a young Indonesian, was great, and the food on the ship was rich, but bland. If you were willing to eat steak every night, which is not good for you, it was more than adequate. But if you craved spicy food or authentic ethnic food, forget it. They served a taco salad one night that would have got the chefs arrested in Mexico, and their "Arab dinner" featured only one Arab dish. The coffee bar on the ship, though, was excellent.

Many people on these ships seem to drink their way through the voyage. But I don't drink any longer, and while I spent $1,250 on the ship using the Internet, partly to write this blog, I never ordered a single alcoholic beverage. That saved quite a bit of money, since drinks often went at $5.95 or above, and wine, of course, was more than that.

I found, at the end of the voyage, that there were some limits to Holland America hospitality. The ship's doctors seemed only anxious to get rid of me when my defibrillator started going off -- 17 times despite tests by the ship's doctors and a doctor in Malaga, Spain, which showed the problem was not in my heart, but in the defibrillator. When this happened in the port of Cadiz, Spain, just two days from the end of the voyage, they packed me off in an ambulance to a hospital and then later were unable to tell my children what hospital it was. My son found out only after calling numerous hospitals throughout the city to inquire whether I was there. I was never so glad as to hear my son's voice on the line after hours of inattention from the Spanish-speaking personnel. From that moment, with my son, who speaks fluent Spanish, interceding for me, their treatment of me radically improved, and, after turning off the defibrillator as broken, they released me the next day.

I left virtually everything on board the ship to be shipped home. Let's hope it gets here.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Clinton Sinks To New Abysmal Low

Sen. Hillary Clinton's suggestion, in a South Dakota newspaper interview that she is not quitting her campaign, because Sen. Barack Obama may get assassinated between now and the Democratic convention is a new low in what has been for months now a disgraceful campaign.

An apology is not enough in this instance. Clinton should bow her head in shame and let the American people off the hook by quitting not only this campaign but, I believe, the U.S. Senate. We should not have sitting senators who are suggesting that their political opponents might be assassinated.

In her continual use of racial undertones, in her clear serving of Republican interests in her improper assaults on Sen. Obama, Clinton has exhibited a woeful lack of integrity now for months.
She and her gruesome husband, Bill Clinton are blots on the American political scene. Let them disappear publicly forever. We cannot abide such scurrilous conduct.

Damn this woman, damn her husband, damn everything they stand for.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Clinton Should Renounce Racist Votes For Her

Written from Seville, Spain--

If Hillary Clinton has a decent sense of American history and ethics values, she should renounce any and all racist votes cast for her in the primaries and caucuses.

An exit poll taken of the Kentucky votes cast for her, showed 21% said they were influenced by race in their choice. What a disgraceful figure for this state, the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln.

Clinton has contributed to this burgeoning figure by the racial undertones of her campaign. She said she didn´t know if Obama was a Muslim, when it was clear he was not. She talked incessantly about the white vote, as did her husband. The racial innuendo became a feature of the Clinton campaign.

It is time for it to stop, if Clinton wants to maintain a shred of her reputation as she continues to serve in the Senate after, thankfully, losing the nomination to Obama.

I notice that Sen. Robert Byrd, a member in his youth in the Ku Klux Klan, endorsed Obama soon after his home state, West Virginia, voted massively for Hillary, partly on racial grounds. Byrd, oldest member in terms of service in the Senate, recognizes that America has changed. That, and, judging from Senate endorsements, Obama is liked better than Hillary there. Jay Rockefeller, the other West Virginia senator, also endorsed Obama.

Commentator David Gergen, one of the best, made the point about Hillary renouncing racial voting on CNN Tuesday night, and he is certainly right.


Meanwhile, I´m pleased to report I´m out of a hospital in Cadiz, Spain, after a little more than a day, where I had to go after my defibrillator discharged 17 times, all apparently in error. We turned the defibrillator off, while I make my way back to Los Angeles. I had to leave the Prinsendam two days early.

My son, who now speaks excellent Spanish after months in Spain and Argentina, argued forcefully over the phone with reluctant Spanish doctors that the defibrillator should be turned off, as did my great Los Angeles doctor, Ray Matthews of USC University Hospital. He will put in a new defibrillator next week.


--Oil has now reached $135 a barrel on the world markets, and it is high time that the U.S and other oil importers take this matter to the U.N. and ask for a cost sharing of oil profits. That and other action against OPEC and other greedy forces in the oil industry and elsewhere. It´s time we spoke up for ourselves and other countries which have fallen victim to these scoundrels.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why Clinton May Have Lost To Obama

Written from Malaga, Spain--

(Pre-Note: Sad word comes from the Massachusetts General Hospital today that Sen. Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy has been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. For decades, Kennedy has been a stalwart in the Senate and in American politics. There will be many bipartisan statements today, and prayers for his recovery).

Let's hope that New York Times writer Adam Nagourney was not jumping the gun when he wrote the article headlined today in the International Herald Tribune, "Clinton's decline: Blunders, bad luck and Bill."

Nagourney, who has not always been up to date about what is happening in the scintillating presidential race, puts it down to a variety of unfortunate happenstances and so forth. But, if she is gone, and I certainly hope she is, I don't think he has it right even now.

If Obama has prevailed in the impassioned race for the Democratic presidential nomination, I'd put it down primarily to these major factors:

1--He is superior to Clinton in both intellect and ethical sensitivity.

2--He has had a superb campaign, organized so wisely and carefully that it provides a solid indication he would also administer the White House well.

3--Like Charles de Gaulle, he never loses his composure.

4--Clinton unwisely put all her planning on the assumption she would clinch the nomination by Super Tuesday, Feb. 5. She unwisely spent extravagantly before that, and, then, when she did not, she had essentially inadequate resources left to contest Obama in the primaries and caucuses that followed later in February, when he built up a margin he has never given up in pledged delegates, and began making inroads in superdelegates.

I agree with Nagourney on one thing: Bill Clinton was not an asset to Hillary Clinton.

Now, there are those saying Obama will be another Michael Dukakis or John Kerry, if he wins the Democratic nomination.

This is bunk. As I suggested recently, Obama has never been, is not now, and will never be, a patsy. Already, he is firing back whenever Sen. John McCain, or anyone else, attacks him. And he is often quite personable about it, such as when he warned Tennessee Republicans, "Lay off my wife."

I recently offered to bet someone that Obama wins the election by getting at least 350 electoral votes. Sounds about right. Put me down for it.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Is China Opening Up A Little As Olympics Approach?

Written On M.S. Prinsendam, Approaching Malaga, Spain--

The International Herald Tribune this morning carries a fascinating article by Philip Taubman headlined, "Watching China and remembering glasnost." (This probably also appeared in the New York Times, which owns and operates the Herald Tribune).

In it, Taubman analyzes the signs that, with the Beijing Olympics approaching, and under the pressure of events in the Sichuan earthquake, Tibet, Burma, The Sudan, Zimbabwe and elsewhere, China may be opening up a little and even altering its foreign policies.

Taubman begins: "A dash of openness can be a dangerous thing in an autocratic state. Mikhail Gorbachev discovered this two decades ago when his campaign to inject some daylight into Soviet society doubled back on him like a heat-seeking missile.

"Now China's leaders are playing with the same volatile political chemistry as they give their own citizens and the world an unexpectedly vivid look at the earthquake devastation in the nation's southwest regions."

Taubman goes on to observe, "While China's response to its natural catastrophe is certainly more humane (than the Burmese junta's), and is only a small step toward openness, it could set in motion political forces that might, over time, be unsettling."

It is so like American journalism that no matter what happens, reporters always seem to be able to find a dark lining in the sunlight.

The fact is, that China's rulers have taken several steps lately that indicate they have been listening to world opinion and that they crave a good reputation, at least during the Olympic period, but perhaps also beyond.

After bitching and screaming for weeks about world reporting and popular reaction to the Tibetan uprisings, China agreed to meet with representatives of the Dalai Lama, who is initially blamed for the trouble.

After sending an arms ship to Zimbabwe in support of the tyrant Robert Mugabe, the Chinese withdrew the vessel without delivering the arms. It's true that South African dockworkers refused to unload the cargo for transshipment, and it was also turned away in Angola, but, still, the Chinese did desist without pressuring others, like Mozambique, to transship the arms.

In Burma, sketchy reports indicate the Chinese have urged the junta to be more accepting of foreign aid to cope with the deaths and destruction caused by the recent cyclone.

It may be too early to assume there's a trend, but at least these are positive steps, and, I believe, should be welcomed
worldwide. Yes, Gorbachev's "glasnost and peristroika" ended with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the Communist system, but this was not all bad, and, I think, Chinese unity may prove more durable than Soviet unity did.


In another terrific article this morning, Janny Scott, now with the New York Times and formerly a talented member of the L.A. Times staff, gives the intriguing details of how Sen. Barack Obama wrote and sold two books which helped launch his political career, and made him a fortune.

It's obvious that if Obama does become president of the United States, major books will one day be written how he pulled off a meteoric rise which is reminiscent of Lincoln and other leaders who climbed out of poverty and obscurity to positions of great power. Scott's recounting thus is only a start, but it is a good start.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Chinese Quake A Wake-Up Call For California

Written on M.S. Prinsendam, in Western Mediterranean Sea--

The earthquake in China's Sichuan province was measured at magnitude 7.9, and some measures of the San Francisco quake of 1906 were that it was magnitude 7.8. Others put it at 8.1 or 8.3.

Regardless which San Francisco figure is correct, the earthquake's power in China is roughly about the same, and that in itself should give us in California cause for reflection. In 1995, at the time of the Kobe quake in Japan, Shelby Coffey, then editor of the L.A. Times, sent me to Japan to do stories on what bearing the quake there had on California quake issues, and I think those stories were quite useful. This time, from what I can read on the L.A. Times Web site, the newspaper, which has grown smaller, has relied on its Asian correspondents to provide all the China quake coverage, and they went in without much quake expertise.

The fact is, a quake the size of the Sichuan earthquake is going to cause terrible damage and casualties in California, were a similar quake to occur there. The high rise buildings constructed since 1906 might well be vulnerable, if the temblor were centered anywhere close to one of the big cities. Also, today, there are all kinds of aqueducts, computer systems and modern highways that have proven in other locales to be susceptible to great damage by intense shaking. Scientific studies have indicated a major quake could occur within a few years in the San Francisco Bay Area or the Inland Empire, San Bernardino, Riverside or Palm Springs, although, of course, no one can be certain where it might strike.

The Sichuan earthquake occurred at a time of day when many children were in school, and there are horrific stories of the schools collapsing, burying hundreds of children, of whom few have been rescued.

In California, several of the great earthquakes that occurred in the 20th Century took place at times of the day when the schools were closed. This was true with the San Francisco quake, the 1933 Long Beach quake, the 1971 San Fernando quake, the 1994 Northridge quake and so forth. That was fortunate, because school casualties were minimized, but we cannot count on such propitious timing being the case in future big quakes.

After 1933, California adopted the Field Act, mandating quake-related construction codes that afforded considerable protection to the state's public schools, although higher education was left uncovered. Since then, there has been an effort to extend safeguards to hospitals and to the general building codes. Many hospitals, however, have won delays in implementing the new standards.

In 2004, the year I retired, I did a story that found that in many respects that in the 10 years since Northridge, California had fallen back on earthquake safety. Many experts told me that California had failed to really improve earthquake construction standards, according to the latest findings, with the exception of retrofitting bridges on the freeways. There was also much less devotion in both the Davis and Schwarzenegger Administration to quake safety, and the state's Seismic Safety Commission had suffered devastating budgetary cutbacks and from the governors' lack of support.

Unfortunately, my story was watered down considerably before it appeared in the newspaper. Chiefly responsible for that was David Lauter, who in my absence on a South American trip before the story actually appeared, took it on himself to weaken the story, without consulting me, which he could have by telephone or e-mail. When I returned and read the story, I was very distressed and wrote a strong protest letter to Lauter and other, higher, editors.

There was never a meaningful response to my complaint. And when I retired, and science writer Lee Hotz subsequently left the newspaper for the Wall Street Journal, the coverage that had won the Times a Pulitzer Prize for Northridge coverage was allowed to languish. There is no one at the paper today who has the concern, or I daresay the knowledge, that we had on earthquake coverage.

I bring all this up now to urge in the strongest terms I can muster that the Times revive its interest in California quake protections. Sharon Bernstein and Hector Becerra have both done some good work in this area, and Shelby Grad has quite a bit of interest in it. But more detailed, tougher coverage is needed. (Another writer who contributed valuable stories on the Northridge quake, Doug Smith, also would be a great earthquake reporter).

We don't want to wake up some day to a major earthquake and find that as a result of not being ready, the quake had caused much greater loss of life and property damage than might have been the case had more protections been approved and implemented.

Incidentally, the Washington Post has an excellent story today about how the Chinese press has been covering the Sichuan quake with much more openness than was in evidence in China in the past.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

Obama-McCain: A Detailed Security Debate Needed

Written from Gabes, Tunisia--

President Bush got a lot of flak from Democrats for his remarks before the Knesset in Israel questioning Democratic "appeasers" of terrorists, with an implication that he was talking about Sen. Barack Obama.

I thought the President had vowed to stay out of the 2008 election, and I find it hard to believe that Sen. John McCain is happy he now seems to be commenting. By a very large margin, polls indicate that voters are not pleased with the Bush policies.

That said, however, the security of the United States is an extremely important issue in this election, and there certainly needs to be a great deal of debate--with as little fearmongering as possible--about what direction the country should now go. As an Obama Republican, I feel the same way generally that I felt when the Jeremiah Wright controversy exploded: Questions of all the candidates, including Obama, are necessary, and the hardest questions are the most necessary. And, of course, their candid answers are required.

Both McCain and Obama, assuming he is the Democratic nominee, and Sen. Hillary Clinton, if she is, must tell us in the most possible detail how they view the options facing the U.S. It is a life or death matter, because, with nuclear proliferation, the chance that some fanatic is going to try to attack American cities or the cities of our allies, with nuclear weapons can, on no count, be discounted.

The same thing with Iraq. Public unhappiness with the way the war is going has already induced McCain to amend his statement we might remain there 100 years, to say he hopes to win the war by 2013. Obama must continue to air his Iraq views completely.

As to whom U.S. diplomats should talk to or not talk to, I'm surprised to hear suggestions from any quarter that we should not talk to Iran. The fact is, the Bush Administration itself has had discussions with Iranian representatives, and both the Secretary of State and the Defense Secretary have supported such talks.

There is a difference between talking to governments, and talking to terrorist organizations, like Hamas and Hezbollah, which are Iranian proxies, but not Iran itself.

I continue to have some hope for constructive talks with Iran.

But we must await the comprehensive views of all the presidential candidates before we can legitimately decide who to vote for in November.


Anita Busch, a former L.A. Times reporter threatened by the now convicted Anthony Pellicano has made charges of Times complicity with Pellicano which must be completely investigated, perhaps by an outside ethics expert. Her charges are disquieting, and it is important they be resolved in such a way that the public will feel confident in the findings.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Realization Of A Goal: Malta Is My 100th Country

Written from Valletta, Malta--

I celebrated reaching my 100th country or dependency today by hosting a luncheon for my tablemates from the cruise ship Prinsendam. Also guests were the sister and niece of my friend, Anton Calleia, who grew up on Malta and left for the U.S., and an eventual career as Los Angeles' chief budget officer. His sister, Ellen, and niece, Janet, remain on Malta, as does his 97-year-old mother. We dined and drank a very good Italian wine, Gazi, at Rubino's restaurant in downtown Valletta.

All those who are acquainted with me know I'm an inveterate traveler -- be it still hitchhiking around Los Angeles on occasion, to a 2005, 11,000-mile drive to Alaska and Canada's Northwest Territory, 20 automobile trips across the U.S., or nine trips to India, five to Italy, a voyage to Antarctica, and various visits to every continent. About 25 countries were in connection with L.A. Times assignments, mainly on the Olympics, but also several volcanoes in the Phillippines and the Caribbean.

Travel, as has been observed, is more a function of willpower than financial resources. When I was 20 years old, while studying a year in Paris, I hitchiked around Europe with a friend on spring vacation on the princely sum of $5 a day for two, and once hitchiked as well most of the way from Lima over the Andes, to Cuzco, Peru. I thought nothing of taking just $100 with me on a trip to the Canadian Rockies in 1967.

In 1968, while covering the presidential campaign of Sen. Eugene McCarthy, I kept track of how much I spent on hotels. The most expensive in the six months with him was the St. Regis in New York, $34 for the night, and the least expensive was in Bismarck, N.D., $4. I used to stay in the Manger-Hay Adams in Washington, D.C. for $16 a night. Those were the days, and one of my proudest moments was when Mark Murphy, Metro editor of the Times, remarked that he could send me to Europe for what it would cost to send another reporter to Fresno.

Years later, when I had children, I often took them on long trips, a month in Australia, to the Sarajevo Winter Olympics, to the World Olympic Congress at Baden-Baden, West Germany, to India and the Normandy beaches. Both my son and daughter now travel a lot on their own, and both have been to 30 countries or more. Even my little granddaughter, four and a half, has been to 12 states and Canada and Mexico.

With so much traveling, I've found myself in some interesting spots when major events occurred. I was in Birmingham, Ala., on Sept. 15, 1963, the day of the church bombing by Klansmen that killed four little black girls. On the terrible day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, I heard the news while standing on the steps of Widener Library at Harvard University. I was in Athens, Greece, the day President Johnson expanded the war in Vietnam, on Feb. 7, 1965, in Wilmington, N.C., on the day of the 1971 San Fernando earthquake, and in Lausanne, Switzerland the day President Jimmy Carter tried and failed to rescue the American hostages in Iran. But I was close to home, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel with Sen. McCarthy, the horrible night that Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

Of course, these days, unable to walk very well, I go on more expensive trips. The present one, around Africa, took me to 15 new dependencies and countries: the Turks and Caicos Islands, Madeira, Senegal, The Gambia, Ghana, Togo, Namibia, South Africa, Lesotho, Reunion, Mauritius, the Seychelles islands, Egypt. Malta and, tomorrow, Tunisia. The cruise will end next week in Spain and Portugal. One of the best things about a cruise at my age is that you don't have to pack and unpack at every stop, but seeing the world from a cruise ship is not as good as renting a car and driving through a foreign land.

The first time I went to Spain, in 1958, Franco was still in power, and the police wore three-cornered Napoleon-style hats. Sometimes, such as with my daughter on the West Bank and in Kashmir, I wandered into areas which were pretty tense. It freaked out my kids when I went to the Middle East a few months after 9-11.

I have a long memory, and while I cannot tell you day to day about each trip, I remember most details of the lion's share of trips and still have a memory of my first, with my parents, to Palm Springs at the age of 2, and I have a pungent memory of a cross-country trip by rail my sister and I took with our mother in wartime 1942.

Obviously, I have some favorite places:

In California, Yosemite National Park, Lassen Peak, San Francisco, Big Sur and the Redwood Highway.

In the U.S., Ashland, Ore., Monument Valley, Ouray, Colo., the Beartooth Pass leading into Yellowstone, the Lemhi Pass, where Lewis and Clark crossed the Continental Divide, Homer, Alaska, Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians, New Orleans, Tampa's Old Spanish section, Greenville, Miss., Sanibel Island, Fla., Mobile, Ala., Washington, D.C., Harpers Ferry, Concord, Mass, and, I hate to admit it, New York City and Boston. I attended Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., but found it too cold. Now, as class secretary of my Dartmouth class, I enjoy going to Hanover every fall.

In Canada, Vancouver, Victoria, Jasper, Lake Louise, the Stikine River, Yellowknife, Montreal and Quebec City.

In Latin America, Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia, the Amazon part of Brazil, Argentina and Chile. I've never been to Rio, or to Panama or Costa Rica, and have only stopped briefly in Ecuador.

In Europe, Norway, Denmark, Austria, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey (the part of Istanbul on the European side of the Bosporus). Moscow was pretty grim when I went there in 1980.

In Asia, Japan, China, Singapore, India (especially Kashmir, Bombay and the Kerala state), Israel, and, I hate to admit, Dubai.

In Africa, Morocco, South Africa and Egypt.

100 countries and dependencies. But that's not really anywhere close to the travels of Juan Antonio Samaranch, the onetime president of the International Olympic Committee. He traveled to 256 governmental entities on Olympic business.

Will I match Samaranch? No.

My favorite trips of all? It would have to be hiking in Yosemite with my father, just home from the war, in 1947 when I was nine years old, and my 1983 trip with my daughter to India when she was 11, where we saw my dear friends, Abraham S. Abraham and his wife, Amrita, in Bombay. In Yosemite, we climbed the old ledge trail, no longer in existence, from the Valley to Glacier Point, to the top of Yosemite Falls and quite a few others. But, being scared of heights, I never climbed Half Dome. That was left to my father and my grandfather, Harris A. Reich, who went to Yosemite regularly for 6o years, and my son, who climbed it much later.

It was more hiking than traveling, but while he was growing up, my son and I hiked about 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail and greatly enjoyed the campouts and day-hikes in the San Jacinto, San Bernardino, San Gabriel, Sierra and Cascade ranges.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Would Edwards Make A Good Obama Running Mate?

Written on M.S. Prinsendam, Approaching Malta--

The 2008 presidential race is perhaps the most riveting political story of my life time. Every day brings a fresh perspective, a new twist and turn. If it ends with an Obama election, it will be without peer in modern history.

Today (for me -- this came at 2 a.m. Thursday, Middle Eastern time), there's the endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama by former Sen. John Edwards.

Normally, I'd be comparing the vigorous Chinese response to the Sichuan earthquake with the disgraceful response to the typhoon by the Burmese junta and cautioning on the need for more earthquake preparedness in California. Or I'd be commenting on President Bush's trip to Israel to commemorate the Jewish state's 60th birthday.

But, as usual, the presidential campaign trumps everything. And the Edwards endorsement, coming just when it does, opens up options for Obama if, as appears likely, he is the Democratic presidential nominee.

Up until this well-timed endorsement, it appeared that Obama was increasingly being forced into a position where he would have to take Sen. Hillary Clinton as his running mate, and I've been writing that might be necessary to unite the Democratic party. But Hillary has not waged a very upright campaign, she has pandered, and, in any event, she carries a lot of baggage. Having Bill and Hillary Clinton beside him in the Administration would be a very great burden on Obama. Who wants another menage-a-trois in the White House?

Edwards would be a lot easier match. He could appeal to the same groups of elderly and low-income voters that Hillary has been winning in her campaign, and, judging from his speech last night in Grand Rapids, which CNN showed in its entirety on its international service, he would be prepared this time to make an energetic and resounding defense of the Obama candidacy.

Edwards was criticized in 2004 for not being a sufficient hatchet man for Sen. John Kerry when he was his vice presidential running mate. This go-around, he seems prepared to be, and, while he's ambitious and something of a slick trial lawyer, I still felt last night that he and Obama looked great together.

Edwards waited quite a while to make his endorsement, although as early as the New Hampshire campaign he seemed to be siding with Obama most often against Hillary. He probably would, as Time magazine's Mark Halperin speculates this morning, been of considerable help to Obama in Pennsylvania, Ohio or Texas, had he endorsed him before those primaries.

Still, we can't expect Edwards to be an angel. He has calculated what would be of most use to his own career, and politicians do that. As it was, his endorsement, coming right after the drubbing Obama took in West Virginia, was opportune.

Clinton, by the way, was on her best behavior yesterday when she was interviewed by CNN's Wolf Blitzer. Had she taken that tone throughout the campaign, she might conceivably have fared better. But running against a Barack Obama would not be a cup of tea for anyone.

Clinton keeps saying she will stay in. It would be far better, both for Obama and her, were she to get out after the last primary in early June. Even some of her prominent supporters, such as Gov. Ed Rendel in Pennsylvania and James Carville now seem prepared to accept that.


I've finished reading Bill Boyarsky's book on the life of Jesse Unruh and found it often entertaining and insightful, though I agree with Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters that Bill might have tried to evaluate why the Unruh legislative reforms, the full-time legislature in California, have not proven a success. His book may have been a little longer, but anything anyone does constructively in retirement deserves commendation. Bill worked hard on this book, and should be congratulated.

I had friendly relations with Unruh when he served as state treasurer, and my fondest memory was the day I learned from the news wires that Gov. Jerry Brown's parole board was considering the release of Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. (Unruh had been present at the assassination in the Ambassador Hotel, and in fact had been instrumental in saving Sirhan from injury or death at the hands of the outraged crowd).

Calling Unruh the afternoon I learned of the possible parole, I asked him, "Are you going to let this happen?" "Absolutely not," Unruh replied. "I'm going right across the street to see the parole board, and I can promise you one thing: Sirhan will never get out." I can still remember the emphasis with which Jess used the word, "Never."

Sirhan remains in prison to this day. As an early terrible example of Palestinian terrorism, he should never be free to boast of his crime, and Unruh's determination is something I will always appreciate.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Oregon Emerges As A Key Democratic Primary

Written On M.S. Prinsendam, off Libya--

Sen. Barack Obama better win the Oregon primary next Tuesday. If he doesn't, then I think his grip on the Democratic nomination may seriously be loosened.

Obama is, for the moment, well ahead of Sen. Hillary Clinton in delegates, superdelegates, popular votes won and states won. But he is going to lose in Kentucky next Tuesday, another state with many low income white voters, and he needs to win traditionally independent-minded Oregon and then South Dakota and Montana June 3. If he does, he has the nomination. If not, I think he's in trouble.

So, if this is correct, it stands to reason that Obama must suspend his visits to possible swing states next November, such as Missouri and Michigan, where he has gone this week, and concentrate on wrapping this thing up, by visiting Oregon, South Dakota and Montana -- and more than once, plus advertise heavily in all three places. He shouldn't for the moment be running primarily against Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.

I don't buy the argument frequently heard now from the Clinton camp that the pattern of states where Hillary has won proves that Obama can't win a general election because he can't win whites. In many states, Obama has won whites in many states, and, in any event, this continues to look like a solid Democratic year. Whoever wins the Democratic nomination is likely to win the election, and as November comes on, and the choice seems clear, Obama would, I think, naturally win the preponderant share of voters who went to Clinton in the primaries and caucuses. They might not be terribly satisfied, but they would come to his side in the end.

One further indication of that came last night in Mississippi, where Democrat Travis Childers won a congressional seat in a special election in a district which not only had recently gone Republican, but where the Republican, Greg Davis, ran a racially-oriented campaign trying to tie the white Democratic candidate to Obama. It didn't work, and it didn't work in another recent district where a Democrat won a Republican seat, in Louisiana.

In fact, the Clinton argument about swing states may not be as valid this year, because it seems, from primary results, that Obama is running very well across the South, and could capture a large number of Southern states in the fall.

After her big win in West Virginia Tuesday night, Clinton sounded as if she were in the race to stay, and may even try to change the rules and lobby for the admission of Florida and Michigan delegates who come out of primaries held in violation of Democratic National Committee rules that Clinton herself had once agreed to. This just is another demonstration of how dishonorable Clinton is. She and her husband are involved in a power grab of chilling proportions.

But that is not to say that if he wins the nomination, Obama shouldn't put her on the ticket with him as the Democratic vice presidential nominee. As I said last week, that may be ncessary.

Obama naturally doesn't want to do this, because who would want the Clintons ensconced in a vice presidency where they could make trouble for an Obama administration? He'd almost need a food taster in the White House. But the Democratic hierarchy might demand her as the vice presidential nominee, and Hillary now seems to be angling for it.

The pressure in that direction only grows when Clinton wins primaries like she did last night.

Some have said an Obama-Clinton ticket, or a Clinton-Obama ticket would be more change than the American people could take, with the first woman and the first black. But such a Democratic tide is running that this year I don't think so. The fact is that McCain probably stands a reasonable chance only if Hillary is the presidential nominee and doesn't put Obama on the ticket.


Many of the political commentary panels being run by the networks on the impassioned presidential race simply include partisans of one side or the other, and not independent observers. What it seems is that a bunch of lawyers for the various candidates are always arguing with another, coming up, as lawyers often do, with the most ridiculous arguments. The viewers deserve better than that.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Into Teeming Cairo, The Pyramids And Sphinx

Written from Alexandria, Egypt--

For a long time, I had skipped Egypt on my travels, not being in great sympathy with its policies, and somewhat concerned about the security of such a visit. But that was a mistake. Egypt is a marvelous travel experience and no one who can afford such a trip should miss it.

Today, hundreds of Prinsendam passengers took a 12-hour tour from the ship, docked here at Alexandria, into Cairo and Giza to see the great pyramids, the Sphinx and the Egyptian Museum, which has many more King Tut articles than have appeared in periodic tours of the U.S.

Cairo has a population roughly estimated at 20 million people, but it was not quite the ramshackle, disorganized place I'd been led to expect. It turns out to have many fancy sections, high-rise buildings of splendid architecture and a subway line that is longer than Los Angeles'. It even, recently, has built a freeway or two.

The pyramids and Sphinx are west of the city, but the city has kind of grown up around them, and the Egyptian authorities might be well advised to form a national park and buy out property owners who now impede the long views of the monuments, which date from 2600 B.C. There are good perspectives now, but the views from the desert are missing. There are obviously no monuments in all the world like these, and it was a thrill to see them. They loom even larger than expected. I skipped the $3 camel ride, however.

We had a guide today, an Egyptology graduate student, who felt constrained to lecture us for some minutes on the virtues of women wearing the veil and in many cases total burkas on the streets of Cairo. He claimed the women like it, although he said Islam does not dictate it. My fellow passengers sat mute through this exercise, which reminded me so much of the Southern whites who used to say the Negroes loved segregation.

But I did speak up. I told him of my feeling that not until women are liberated and put on an equal footing with men, will Egypt and other Arab countries advance. Right now, these countries labor under a severe handicap: Only half their population really participates in the economic life of the community. I expressed a view that men, like women, here would be better off with a new arrangement.

In accord with the ship's advice, many of the women going on the tour wore scarfs, and many of the men long-sleeved shirts. But Cairo has many tourists and I noticed that particularly the Asians, the Japanese and Chinese women who were visiting and on the streets, were wearing shorts. I imagine Arab men enjoyed the view.

Security on the trip from Alexandria to Cairo was light. No convoy, as to Luxor the other day, and buses drove separately, each with a security man in a front seat riding shot gun. In Cairo itself, and particularly around the Egyptian Museum, there was heavy security.

Tourists get a good reception in this country, by the way.

The Nile flows right through the center of downtown Cairo.


Kudos to the L.A. Times editorial pages for running an editorial contrary to a position taken by Sam Zell and opposing Proposition 98, which under the guise of undoing the foolish court decisions allowing muncipalities to seize property by eminent domain for commercial projects would also do away with rent control and do other things as a favor for the wealthy. This is a sound position, and tends to verify Zell's earlier assurances that he would not interfere in editorial policy.


Today is the 50th anniversary of the uprising of French settlers and Army officers in Algeria that ultimately brought Charles de Gaulle back to power in France and paved the way, eventually, for French withdrawal from Algeria.

After being restored, de Gaulle went down to Algiers and made one of the great Machiavellian statements of modern history: "I have understood you," he roared. The crowd of Colons roared back. They thought he was saying he understood them and would support them. What he, in fact, was saying, as it turned out, was that he had understood them and was against them.


Monday, May 12, 2008

Suez Canal Pespectives--Sinai Side Undeveloped

Written on M.S. Prinsendam, Port Said, Egypt--

Our 11-hour passage through the Suez Canal is complete, and we're in the Mediterranean Sea. There were no warships today, so the Prinsendam led the northbound convoy of 46 ships, and actually got underway at 3:30 a.m. There were no halts, since the southbound convoy of the day, 18 ships, was waiting for us in Great Bitter Lake when we passed, south of Ismailia.

Signs of Middle Eastern conflict were everywhere. To protect the canal and its shipping, the Egyptian government stations soldiers every few hundred feet all along the 101-mile length of the waterway. Mostly, they live in flimsy tents and stand solo watch out in the bright sunlight. It cannot be pleasant duty.

The Suez Canal, finished in 1869 and containing no locks, since it is at sea level throughout, was first conceived by ancient Egyptian monarchs in the 6th century BC. It is traversed each year by about 25,000 ships, about 14% of the world's shipping, and individual ships frequently pay tolls of $200,000 or more. Of course, it marks the boundary between Africa and Asia.

There is a very marked difference, as we saw today, between the east bank, the Sinai desert, and the west bank, which is irrigated and part of the Nile river delta. So, on the one side there is lush farm land, and on the other side, the east side, almost no development at all. It's as if the Egyptians expect the Israelis to be back some day, as they were in 1956 and 1967-73.

There are signs along most of the way of the remainders of the Israeli Bar Lev line, built to defend their positions on the east side of the canal. Israeli engineers built berms and ramparts 25 feet high, and there are still the ruins of some military equipment destroyed in the Israeli-Arab wars.

On the other hand, Ismailia and other cities along the way on the west bank look fairly prosperous, as did Luxor a few days ago.

There is only one bridge across the canal, and that is a spectacular suspension bridge built a few years ago by the Japanese. Otherwise, there are multiple ferries, every few miles, and some with a huge backup of truck traffic. (The Asian influence is quite noticeable here in Egypt. When we went to Luxor the other day, we rode in Chinese-made buses, very comfortable with every modern feature).

Tomorrow early we dock in Alexandria, and many passengers, including me, will take a 12-hour tour from there to Cairo and the Pyramids. Malta has been substituted for Libya as the following stop, Libya having been cancelled because the Khadafy government would not give visas to the American passengers.


Two articles in the Herald-Tribune today deal with the Obama candidacy. Maureen Dowd makes a rather compelling case for him not putting Hillary on the ticket as a Vice Presidential running mate, calling her a "Trojan rabbit," a disruptive force who could jinx Obama. And Edward Luttwak, in a chilling article, warns that to fundamentalist Muslims, Obama is an apostate, because his father renounced Islam, and that accordingly his murder is regarded as mandated by Islamic law. Luttwak notes that Iran has endorsed apostate murder and that Obama could, under no circumstances, go there for any talks.

Luttwak concludes, "Of all the well-meaning desires projected on Obama, the hope that he would decisively improve relations with the world's Muslims is the least realistic."

Maybe so, but many Muslims I've met while circumventing Africa have expressed admiration of Obama, and enthusastically backed his candidacy.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Through The Suez Canal Tomorrow On My Cruise

Written on M.S. Prinsendam Approaching Suez Canal--

So far, my cruise from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., across the Atlantic, and then around Africa, has gone more than 18,000 miles, and now one of the climactic moments will come tomorrow, the passage in convoy through the Suez Canal.

At the moment, we are in the Gulf of Suez about 50 miles below the anchorage at which convoys through the canal are formed. What happens is that the northbound convoy enters the canal about 6 a.m., proceeds to a holding spot near Ismailia, lets the southbound convoy pass, and then proceeds to the Mediterranean Sea, reaching it about 5 p.m.

In the convoys, according to our captain, any warships go first, then passenger ships and cruise ships and finally freighters.

It's highly evident we are in the Middle East. Earlier this morning we passed the offshore oil wells developed by both the Israelis, during their Sinai occupation (1967-73), and Egyptians just off the Sinai peninsula. Then, the first big sight tomorrow is supposed to be all the Egyptian tanks and other military equipment destroyed by the Israeli army in three wars. You can be assured I'll be out on deck to see this.

My trip is also reaching a significant personal milestone. Egypt was my 99th country yesterday, and Malta, next Friday, will be my 100th. Naturally, I'm happy about this, and will take a few friends from the ship to a gala luncheon on Malta, renowned for its gallant resistance to the Axis powers in World War II.


Now Rupert Murdoch has dropped his bid to buy Newsday, and the New York Times this morning says that Cablevision might have the inside track to the purchase from the faltering Tribune Co.

But, alas, it is not faltering enough to divest itself of the L.A. Times to someone who would run it with more ambition and more competence.


Sen. Barack Obama's chances against Sen. John McCain have, in my view, been underestimated. I notice he is ahead of McCain in a poll out this morning, 46% to 40% -- and that's even before Hillary throws her support to him.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Dollar Still Counts On The Streets Of Luxor

Written After Visit To Luxor, Egypt--

Five hundred Prinsendam passengers went in a police-protected convoy on a 300-mile roundtrip to see the ancient temples and tombs of Luxor, on the Nile River, Saturday, and it was a great trip by several counts.

But on a voyage when we have often been reminded how far the dollar has sunk compared to the Euro (although it has rebounded a little in recent weeks), we found a deal while stalled in traffic in downtown Luxor that outmatched anything on the trip. In the hotel where we had lunch, they were asking $25 each for colorful papyrus prints. A peddler on the street, however, was selling the same prints, which look like paintings, for a dollar each. And one woman on our tour bus finally bought everything another peddler had for 50 cents apiece.

We had many impressions on the 13-hour trip in ten buses. Of course, the antiquities were wonderful, and it was great to see the Nile River, almost a mile wide and 100 feet deep at Luxor, with some of the 350 luxury craft which cruise up and down the river, at anchor on the river bank adjacent to downtown Luxor (an impressive city of 1.4 million people).

A few years ago, in a tragic day, Islamic terrorists slaughtered scores of tourists visiting the antiquities in Luxor, including 60 Swiss tourists. After that horrific episode, Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, vowed never to let it happen again, and he has subsequently assigned strong police and military guards to tourists traveling to Luxor and elsewhere in Egypt. Tourism is probably the biggest revenue-producer Egypt has, so this makes eminent good sense.

We saw the security guard in operation today, and it was well done. When we left the port of Safaga on the Red Sea first thing in the morning, the convoy of buses was headed by a police truck carrying several machine gun-wielding officers. Police cars followed the procession, and at each intersection, all other traffic was blocked, including that coming from the opposite direction, and police and soldiers carrying rifles or machine guns stood guard on the streets. It all came off without a hitch. Whoever said, Egypt was poorly organized?

The first 110 miles of the trip was through a barren desert, with hardly a bush or a tree, and no irrigated farmland. But 40 miles from the Nile, we began running aside an irrigation canal, and from then on, it was lush farm land, every square inch beyond houses and huts it seemed covered with a variety of crops, and even on the banks of the canal, sugar cane was growing. It was a repeat of something we've seen elsewhere in Africa on this tour: The inhabitants are often poverty-stricking, but they make use of everything they have to eke out a living.

Still, life is not easy. For every tractor or truck we saw hauling produce to market, we saw at least 10 simple wagons, pulled by a donkey. And many people carried their own produce to market.

In every village we went through, the most impressive buildings were the minarets of mosques, towering over everything, a striking display of the preeminent role of Islam in Egypt.

But also impressive to me was that nearly every woman we saw, and there were far fewer women on the streets than men, was not only veiled but covered from head to toe in usually totally black garments.

I could not help but think what a boon it would be to all these countries in the Middle East to liberate the women, to allow them to take their place in the modern world, rather than to be so subservient (and, in the customary heat here, uncomfortable).

Nonetheless, Luxor itself often conveyed an impression of prosperity. There are many fine hotels and gift shops of all kinds. This is in a way, a tourists' paradise. Many of the cruise ships that sail from Luxor up the river to Aswan looked very appealing.

We are leaving Safaga late tonight, and will be passing up the Gulf of Suez tomorrow and then through the Suez Canal on Monday.


I'm glad to see Sen. Hillary Clinton has said she regrets her statement to USA Today about the support she's been getting from the "hard working Americans, white Americans." Bob Herbert has an excellent column in today's New York Times about that statement, with its racist tinge. Hillary should abandon all her snide attacks on Sen. Barack Obama, and start going with the flow. He deserves her full support, for his campaign has been a dignified and worthy one, not to say inspirational, and there is every prospect he will be the next President. Hillary should be worried about her next Senate campaign in New York, not to mention her standing in the U.S. Senate if she begins to sound like Bilbo and Talmadge.

A woman on the trip complained to me today, "It seems like everyone in Africa is for Obama." I replied, "Nearly everyone in the world is for him. Let's just hope the American people have the good sense to go along with that opinion."


Friday, May 09, 2008

Obama Moves To Reconcile Hillary Backers

Written on M.S. Prinsendam, Approaching Safaga, Egypt--

I saw Sen. Barack Obama being interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on CNN last night, looking relaxed but gearing up for the fall campaign. He was magnanimous toward Hillary, which, of course, he should be. It was Winston Churchill who once said, "if you have to kill someone, it costs nothing to be polite."

Mrs. Clinton also should have a great interest, in terms of restoring her reputation for integrity and fair dealing, to follow the New York Times' editorial advice today and drop her attacks against Obama and especially what the New York Times called the "disturbing racial undertones" of her campaign in whatever campaigning she chooses to do before withdrawing and endorsing Obama.

Going up against Sen. John McCain, Obama will have the upscale Democrats, the young, African-Americans, independents and a few Obama Republicans like me. He'll have to work to bring aboard the groups who have voted for Hillary in the primaries, blue collar whites, Latinos, Catholics and the elderly. But the issues are with the Democrats this year. I certainly do not share the fears expressed in some quarters that Obama will be a patsy in the fall and a victim, like Michael Dukakis, to Republican attacks.

Obama never has been, is not today, and will never be, a patsy.

In this vein, in the International Herald Tribune this morning, there's a wonderful column by Ellen Goodman about Obama's mother, who had the first name of Stanley, because her father had wanted a boy.

This was the Kansas white woman who had the temerity to marry a black Kenyan at a time when racial intermarriage was anathema to most Americans and illegal in some states. She gave Obama great genes of courage and wisdom, as did his father.

Obama, in accord with the greatest American presidential traditions, had remarkable parents. Their influence and his rise is already one of the great stories in the illustrious history of American politics.

Now, as many have said quietly to themselves, may the Secret Service do a good job of protecting him.


The unspeakably obscene military junta which has enslaved the people of Burma for 46 years now has committed a new outrage -- confiscating the first military aid carried in two UN planes into the country in the wake of the catasthropic cyclone that has struck it, killing many thousands. This has forced a suspension of the aid shipments, many of which had been unconscionably delayed by the junta anyway.

In the cases of Idi Amin's Uganda and Pol Pot's genocidal Cambodia, outside powers had to step in, sending military units to wrest control from the dictators and turning government over to the people. Much the same kind of thing should be done in Burma. Fortunately, in its case, the legally elected leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, held under house arrest for 12 years, is on hand to take over.

The world can and must not stand idly by any longer.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Words For Mr. Bush, And Some Critical Of Him

Written on M.S. Prinsendam, in the Red Sea, off Saudi Arabia--

A passenger on board this ship with whom I've become friendly on my African cruise exclaimed to me the other day, "George Bush is the worst President in Ameican history." He was quite taken aback when I did not agree, especially since he knows I am a Republican who supports Barack Obama for president.

Actually, I told him, at least three presidents were worse than Mr. Bush: James Buchanan, who did nothing as the country drifted into disunion and civil war, Herbert Hoover, who sat idly by while the Great Depression worsened, and Warren Harding, corrupt and an adulterer, whose wife may have poisoned him.

And that does not count the nonentities, who accomplished little or nothing as President, such as Millard Fillmore, William Henry Harrison and Chester Arthur. Poor Harrison caught a cold on inauguration day and died just a month later.

My feeling is that President Bush has acted forthrightly in accord with his judgment and has tried, in difficult circumstances, to do the best he could by the American people.

There are several matters with which I find myself in serious disagreement with the President, who I voted for in 2004 but not in 2000. One is his Supreme Court appointments of John Roberts and Samuel Alito. I think they have moved the Supreme Court disastrously to the right, and that Sen. John McCain, by the way, is wrong to extoll them. Second, is the President's total failure to even try to cope with global warming or the oil price crisis. Third, of course, was his inadequacy in dealing with Hurricane Katrina.

But there are matters in which I think the President is to be honored for his service.

First, I'd say, he has been strong for civil rights. If Obama indeed is elected president, Mr. Bush will have helped pave the way for an African-American by naming Gen. Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice secretaries of state. He also went to Atlanta to speak at a ceremony honoring The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and to the Capitol Rotunda to honor Rosa Parks when she died.

Some will say that the President, through some of the tactics he has adopted in the War on Terror, has compromised civil liberties. I can't agree. Civil liberties in America are intact. Giving harsh treatment to foreign terrorists does not constitute an abridgement of our liberties. It may, in fact, protect them. Murderers like Osama bin Laden are not entitled to good treatment. We dare not lose the fight with such scoundrels, because if we do, we will no longer be free.

Some will also say the President did not get along with the press and was not always candid with them. Although I spent 50 years in the newspaper business, this does not really bother me. Sometimes, it is advantageous for a President to be buddies with the press, and sometimes it isn't.

Of course, history will judge Mr. Bush on his initiation and conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. All polls show the American people have soured on Iraq, and this may cost the Republican party heavy losses in the 2008 election, as it did the one in 2006.

But I persist in feeling that putting an American army into the Middle East served our interest at the time. Whether we are ultimately successful there, I agree with McCain, depends on our perseverance. I was very proud when my own son served two tours of duty in Iraq. And I question whether either Obama or Sen. Hillary Clinton would find the consequences of removing American troops from Iraq to be palatable.

I wish George W. Bush had been a better, more skillful, perhaps more intellectual president. But I think he has been dedicated to doing the right thing, as he understood the right, and I believe he should be thanked and honored for that.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Clinton Should Quit Now And Fully Back Obama

Written on M.S. Prinsendam, off Yemen in the Red Sea--

If she were sensible and wanted to do what's best for the Democratic party, the country, and her own reputation and political future, Sen. Hillary Clinton would quit the race for the Democratic nomination now and give her full endorsement to Sen. Barack Obama.

Obama, after last night's one-sided victory in North Carolina and losing only very narrowly in Indiana now has a 155-delegate lead and solid prospects for new commitments from the super-delegates, among whom he has been doing well, even during the rough period following the Pennsylvania primary. He is, at last, closing the deal, and I believe after his strong unifying speech last night is already shaping the fall strategy that will give him victory over Sen. John McCain.

If she fights on, Clinton will only look more and more power mad. Already, she has been behaving very strangely with her "obliterate Iran" talk and ditsy gas-tax moratorium. She is becoming more and more wild in her statements and attacks.

On Sunday, when she appeared on ABC, Clinton described her only strong backer among New York Times columnists, Paul Krugman, as a shill for President Bush when she was asked about his expression of doubts about her gas tax proposal. This showed she is becoming paranoid. Is this the way, she thinks about such a loyal supporter as Krugman?

Speaking of news media personalities, it was the far-rightist Republican talk show host Russ Limbaugh who really provided much of Clinton's 22,000-vote margin in Indiana, by suggesting that GOP voters should cross over and vote for her. Exit polls show that thousands did. When Clinton has to rely on Russ Limbaugh and protests from the Iranian government about her bellicose talk, she is about through.

If, ultimately, she wishes to have a fruitful career in the U.S. Senate, and avoid the psychiatric examination she probably needs, Clinton ought to fold her tents.

The reader of this blog might say that is unlikely. But Hillary is a retread of another "fighter to the last," Richard Nixon, and even Nixon, when the writing was on the wall, finally resigned. I think beginning now, just in the next few days, Clinton is going to come under tremendous pressure from the party hierarchy to get out of the race, and I wouldn't be surprised if she finally gives in.

Also, it is important now for usually cynical politicians to realize just what a tremendous candidate Barack Obama is. He described himself last night in his North Carolina speech as "imperfect," but the fact is that not since Franklin D. Roosevelt have we seen such a master politician. And he is more candid than Roosevelt, who was quite devious. With Obama, you see and hear what he is, an admirable leader for the 21st Century.

It is a great thing too for the USA that a man like Obama has come out of the black community to demonstrate once and for all that the work of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not in vain and that as Dr. King said in his last speech, black people in America can, at last, "reach the Promised land."

The day he wins, in fact, all of America will reach the Promised Land, displayed to all the world as a nation of idealism and harmony. It is a splendid opportunity which we, as a people, should not miss.


The returns began coming in on M.S. Prinsendam at 2 a.m. Yemeni time. But CNN was the only avenue of watching them on the ship, and CNN kept coming on and off, along with a peculiar written message on the screen that said, "CNN not authorised." I don't know who was not authorizing them, but was able eventually to receive enough of the returns to be vastly reassured about the good sense of the American electorate.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Mexico Grows Increasingly Disfunctional

Written on M.S. Prinsendam, in the Gulf of Aden--

Somalia, Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Lebanon and Iraq are not the only countries in the world which are threatening because they are so dysfunctional. Increasingly, Mexico is joining them, and it, of course, is right next to the U.S.

The news from Mexico recently has not been at all good. The courageous campaign of the new president, Felipe Calderon, to use the army and police to curtail rampant drug peddlers has only been followed by a large number of assassinations of law enforcement personnel. The situation along the border, particularly in the cities of Tijuana and Juarez, has grown critical.

According to a New York Times article (its International Herald Tribune saw fit to only pick up a couple of paragraphs of it), the mayhem has cost at least 3,500 lives, including those of 200 police officers.

The spreading corruption of the drug trade threatened to destabilize the whole country. Mexico has a volcanic past of sudden eruptions of domestic trouble, and this is a danger sign that neither we nor the Mexican government can afford to ignore.

In addition, relying by Mexican law only on its own resources, the Mexican oil industry is sinking fast. Without investments that the big international oil companies could provide, production has been dropping off, and there doesn't seem to be the willingness to do anything about it. Mexico, always rocky economically, is falling into a downward spiral that has to be disquieting, particularly to us as neighbors.


My ship is now racing, at full speed of about 20 knots, through the Gulf of Aden, and is scheduled at the moment to enter the Red Sea, beyond the reach of Somali pirates, at 6 a.m. tomorrow. Our Dutch Navy escort has turned back to Mombasa, to resume convoying food shipments to Somalia, although other NATO military ships are reportedly nearby. The ship is more or less hugging the Yemeni coast, as far from Somalia as possible. Our captain, Christopher Turner, has been very good at keeping the passengers informed, and photographs of the Dutch frigate are being sold on the ship.


David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, who is hard to fool, remarks in a column today of Sen. Hillary Clinton, in her appearance Sunday on ABC that "for the first 30 minutes, she did not utter a single candid word."

Hillary, as I've remarked before, is a Richard Nixon retread, just as demagogic and dishonest. By contrast, as Brooks declares, Sen. Barack Obama "gave off an entirely different vibe on 'Meet The Press.' He still seems like a human being. He still seems to return each night to some zone of normalcy, where personal reflection lives."

Will the voters of Indiana and North Carolina appreciate the difference? We'll see when the returns come in tonight.

And will the press as a whole start giving the disgraceful Clintons' grab for power, the negative attention it deserves? I'm not holding my breath,


Monday, May 05, 2008

Obama Draws Endorsements Acorss Spectrum

Written from Salalah, Oman--

I never thought I'd be quoting him favorably, but producer Michael Moore was on the Larry King show last night on CNN, and some of what he said about Sen. Barack Obama, whom he has now endorsed, bears repeating.

One, he noted that Julie Nixon had endorsed Obama last week. (And Jenna Bush implied recently she might back him). Such endorsements do tend to disprove the claim that Obama really can't cross partisan lines and would, perforce, lose to Sen. John McCain, if he wins the Democratic nomination.

Moore also pointed out that Sen. Hillary Clinton is "disgusting" in her attempts to concoct phony issues in the struggle for the Democratic nomination. Obama, he noted, never, never has suggested that people not vote for Clinton because she is a woman, or tried to use gender in any way. But Clinton constantly refers at least obliquely to the racial issue, and, has even said, duplicitiously that she doesn't know if Obama is a Muslim.

This is a disgrace. Now, Hillary declares on the Bill O'Reilly program that had she been a congregant in Rev. Jeremiah Wright's Christian church she would have left long ago. Well, la te da, Hillary will do anything to keep Wright's perverse racial sentiments, disavowed completely by Obama, in voters' minds.

And, we also find out today, she has a last-minute commercial in Indiana, questioning Obama's devotion to guns. This is another way of reminding the voters he is black. But who doesn't know that already?

So now the woman who is pandering to the voters by offering a gas tax moratorium that will never come to pass, and has suggested she would "obliterate" Iran if it attacks Israel, is turning to the support of guns. This too is absolutely disgraceful. But it's what we have come to expect from Clinton just before primary day in important states.

Such tactics worked in Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania, but they may not work in Indiana, the home state of the upright John Wooden. Voters there might be a little more skeptical of the authenticity of purported liberals who suggest obliterating other countries and support guns.

I think it's great that even Julie Nixon is backing Obama, especially since Hillary continues to emulate her father, who had the well-deserved nickname, "Tricky Dick." Richard Nixon said he had a plan to end the war in Vietnam in the 1968 campaign. Yet, when he came to the Presidency, he invaded Cambodia, sparking off the genocide there, and allowed many thousands more American troops to die in a war in Vietnam he would not end.

Now, Clinton says she would end the war in Iraq, which she would not, and she strikes a bellicose tone in Afghanistan and Iran. She, more than McCain, is the war candidate.


Our guide this morning in Oman said that men in the Muslim kingdom customarily have four wives. I wanted to be culturally sensitive and diplomatic, so I said, "Well, even our Hillary Clinton has been part of a harem."


Sunday, May 04, 2008

Hillary Panders To Voters On Gas Tax Moratorium

Written On M.S. Prinsendam Approaching Salalah, Oman--

I'm endebted to Mark Halperin, political guru for Time magazine, for pointing out this morning that Sen. Hillary Clinton enthusiastically endorsed the filly Eight Belles to win the Kentucky Derby yesterday. Eight Belles finished second to the winner, Big Brown. Tragically, Eight Belles broke both ankles at the finish line and had to be euthanized.

Of course, I wish Hillary good health and long life, preferably in the U.S. Senate, or just raking in the dough with her husband, Bill Clinton.

But, as the Indiana and North Carolina primary campaigns draw to a close, Hillary is pandering to the voters once again -- this time by suggesting that the oil companies pay the 18-cent-a-gallon gas tax over the summer.

Sen. Barack Obama calls this "a shell game," and he is right. For one thing, either the oil companies would simply up their gas prices to pay for the tax, or litigate such a measure to delay it all summer. That assumes, it would ever clear the oil industry-dominated Congress.

Of course, the fact is we need the gas tax to build and maintain federal highways. Already, it is insufficient to do so. The gas tax is part of a sound energy policy. Hillary is just trying a cheap trick on the voters. Let's hope they are not so gullible.

Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich, both New York Times columnists, and Jack Cafferty, a commentator for CNN, have all distinguished themselves this year with their campaign commentaries. I might particularly commend Dowd this morning for her brilliant column on Obama, entitled, "This Bud's For You."

In it, she writes, notably, "Why does Obama, the one with the bumpy background and mixed racial heritage, the one raised by a single mother who was on food stamps, seem so forced when he mingles with the common folk?....

"Voters also don't seem to mind Hillary, with her $109 million bank account, selling herself as the champion of the little people. As first lady, the blue-collar queen was renowned for her high-handed treatment of the little people in the (White House) travel office, on the switchboard and on the residence staff.

"Obama, on the other hand, may seem esoteric, and sometimes looks haughty or put-upon when he should merely offer that ensorcelling smile. But he is very well liked by his Secret Service agents, and shoots hoops with them. And I watched him take the time one night after a long day of campaigning to stand and take individual pictures with a squadron of Dallas motorcycle officers on the tarmac..."

Dowd is smart enough to realize that in Obama we have a terrific human being. Beyond that, I believe he is just what America needs at this time to make a great President of the U.S. I have contributed $600 to his campaign, and am proud to be a supporter. Good luck to him this week, and to the American people.


Approaching Oman on the Arabian peninsula, we are losing our escort today, the Dutch frigate which has been with us along the Somalia coast since Mombasa. I'm not sure whether we will have an escort later in the week when we sail along Somalia again, this time in the Gulf of Aden, heading for the Red Sea.


Saturday, May 03, 2008

Need For Economic Adjustments To Cope

Written on M.S. Prinsendam, In Arabian Sea--

One of the most memorable days spent thus far on my cruise around Africa was the ship's visit to The Gambia, a tiny West African country sandwiched in between parts of Senegal. The poverty was depressing. Toward the end of a long day in the hinterland, I saw a girl of about five, beautiful in a simple green dress, her eyes gleaming with intelligence, one of many who ran to the side of the road to see the tourists. I could not help thinking: What kind of future does this child have?

With oil prices skyrocketing, a push for biofuels to replace oil increasing, interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve Board which have encouraged inflation and reduced the value of the dollar, and population control languishing, it is often the poorest countries in the world who absorb the brunt of such developments.

What is needed now?

1--In The Gambia, it is certainly population control. Those who resist it are being completely unrealistic. It, and countries like it, have already stripped their resources. They simply cannot support a greater population without desperate privation.

2--There has to be a careful assessment of the costs of biofuel production. It is fueling also in many cases a rise of food prices which has led to riots in Haiti, Egypt and other countries. Ethanol production in the U.S. has certainly led to a rise in corn prices. Some biofuels can be produced without affecting the food supply and food prices. Those must be emphasized, and others, which are shown to be counterproductive, need to be dropped. There is indeed a "food crisis," as is seen by the recent proposals made by Thailand for a world rice cartail, like, God forbid, OPEC.

3--Currency stabilization. The Federal Reserve Board seems more solicitous of Wall Street and its stock prices than it should be. An ever more valuable Euro is, paradoxically, contributing to European tensions, since it works in Germany's interest but not in those of France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. The fall in the dollar has generated ever higher oil prices in dollars, and most countries without oil pay in dollars, as do the American people. The adverse consequences economically of the drastic Federal Reserve cuts in interest rates over the past few months may well outweigh the benefits, such as lessening chances of a Recession.

4--Atomic power. It requires careful handling and a foolproof method needs to be developed for disposing of nuclear waste. But it produces electricity without the use of the global warming villains, oil and coal, and it is an absolutely necessary part of the mix. Certain countries like France are far ahead of the U.S. in its use.

5--I have previously suggested taking the matter of oil prices to the U.N. Security Council to begin discussions about a consortium which would share oil revenues worldwide. This may seem an idea the oil producers would never accept. But four of the five powers with a veto power in the Security Council -- the U.S., Britain, France and China -- are net oil importers, so there could be powerful support for such an idea, sort of a National Football League profit-sharing scheme.

It is fine to send economic aid to places like The Gambia. I'm all for it. But the underlying steps and reforms suggested above could do more good than whatever aid is being sent.