Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays

The correspondent at ItsFourthAndLong bids you peace this holiday season. He returns the week of January 5, 2009.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Moving the holidays


If you’re Jewish, let’s face it, you’ve got it a tad easier. If you don’t take care of someone tonight, you’ve got five more nights in which to make it up to a loved one or whoever else is on your gift list.

Christmas and Hanukah suffer from Thanksgiving’s proximity. They fall too close to Turkey Day and, as a result, they’re the leading causes of stress, anxiety and depression in December.

Thanksgiving is the best holiday. You eat, drink and make merry – all without having to worry about buying someone a gift that requires an emotional touch point.

If your hosts hate the wine or the center piece you offered, that’s nothing. These gifts didn’t break your checking account and, emotionally speaking, they’re inconsequential.

But Christmas and Hanukah, they’re different stories. They demand your best gift giving efforts. Heaven forbid you should fail to buy that special someone anything other than that very gift that perfectly suits them.

At our house, every Christmas presents a gift giving conundrum. What to buy for whom? Our kids are easy; the kids of relatives and friends are somewhat easy; friends we buy for are easy. Our mothers are easy. Our fathers, men who have every toy they ever wanted, present difficulties. We’re never sure what to do for them.

In addition, this year’s short time frame between Christmas and Thanksgiving has presented numerous scheduling difficulties. A number of gifts will be late. I explained this to a dear friend who reminded me, because she’s always been wise beyond her years, that Christmas is a season, not a day. While a wonderful idea that works in some circles, it doesn’t cut it with our culture. Christmas remains a day!

So because these holidays demand our best efforts, we should reschedule them to a month that’s truly awful, January. Christmas and Hanukah in January would make the month so much more palatable. And once the celebrations are over, it’ll be nearly February, when spring’s just around the corner.

Is there a religious problem here? Not really.

The history of Christianity is a history of competition. One can’t just start up a new religion without figuring out ways to compete and, at times, collude with society’s domineering culture.

No one really knows when Jesus was born; stories suggest his birth was either in the summer or fall but it remains a mystery. The only thing that appears to be certain is His death, at around Passover, or sometime in either March or April.

The leading reason that Jesus’ birth is celebrated in December is because that’s when an event was celebrated during the days of the Roman Empire, Winter Solstice. In fact, green is a Christmas color because the Romans decorated with it to celebrate the pending arrival of spring.

Scholarly reports suggest that early Christians celebrated Jesus’ birth in December for two reasons: 1) so they would have something to celebrate while everyone else was marking the arrival of longer days; 2) to offer up a completely different celebration or, in other words, to compete against Winter Solstice.

So, religiously speaking, there’s nothing stopping us from moving Christmas to January 25th. If anything, it’ll give retailers, those gauges of economic health, double the time to score sales as opposed to the usual four to five weeks after Thanksgiving.

Since Hanukah is now competing with Christmas or vice-versa – take your pick – it should go along with this modest proposal and move to January as well. Religiously speaking, Hanukah can’t move as easily as Christmas can but, in the name of competition, I say, make the move. It’s stronger closer to Christmas than it is farther away.

Everybody wins here: People have more time to shop. Department stores, boutiques and others selling gifts have a longer lead time in which to make their sales figures and consumers breathe a sigh of relief.

If we implement this plan, we’ll still have New Year’s as usual. Even that song, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,” while suffering from chronology problems, still works. Let’s face it, you don’t want to sing, “We wish you a Happy New Year and a Merry Christmas.” Although depending on where you are on the sobriety chart on December 31st, maybe you do.

What about the clergy? Will they like this idea? I’m not sure but their objections can be met this way: The holidays’ meanings are more important to celebrate than the exact days on which the events actually happened.

Who’s with me?


Encyclopedia of Religion. New York: Thomson Gale, 2005

Encyclopedia of religious rites, rituals and festivals. Frank A. Salamone, editor. New York: Routledge, 2004

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Morning Routine

Most mornings are the same: I’m out of bed at 4:20 a.m., putting on my exercise clothes before heading over to the local YMCA to complete my “macho” workout in about an hour. I figure the time spent running on a treadmill, lifting weights and doing those god-awful abdominal crunches will keep mortality at bay, allow me to eat and drink to my heart’s content, and see my children well into their adult years.

After completing my exercises, it’s off to a nearby convenience store to purchase a copy of The New York Times before returning home to take my wife to the train station. (In case you’re curious, The Chicago Tribune, The Daily Herald and The Wall Street Journal are home delivered.) Our sons usually join us for this ride and receive mom’s usual admonitions, which include behaving like the well-mannered boys they’re expected to be. Once at the station, she hugs them, telling them how much they’re loved.

Back home – it’s not even 7 a.m. yet – the boys eat breakfast while I tend to shaving, showering and dressing. An hour later, the kids are dressed, their teeth are brushed, and we’re out the door again. The younger son, attending a junior kindergarten program, is the first to be dropped off.

I take him into his classroom, get him peed and his hands washed before giving him lots of hugs and kisses, telling him he’s great and loved. Once out of the building, I turn to his classroom window, wave good-bye and blow a few kisses his way. From what I understand, it eases his transition to his teachers’ care and provides the impetus he needs to start playing with his classmates

The older one, now a first grader, and I soon find ourselves sitting in a coffee shop, working on his reading skills. This lasts for about 45 minutes and gives him just enough time to read about 10 pages of a book he checked out from the school library. This exercise usually involves further memorization of words he already knows and expanding his vocabulary by sounding out words that are new to him.

This daily habit can be fraught with frustration. In the beginning, there were days he refused to read. So instead of becoming angry, I took a different approach. “We’re not doing this for my benefit,” I told him. “We’re doing this for yours. If you want to learn how to read, you better start reading this book.”

That message worked and, in the 10 weeks we’ve been at this exercise, I’ve seen dramatic improvements in his reading skills. Not only that, but his confidence and enthusiasm for reading show through so much so that he enjoys showing off new words he can read. It’s especially exciting if it’s a compound word.

Our time with one another also gives me a chance to pick up new details about his young life and answer his questions, which lately have included inquiries about people’s gaits, wishing wells (the restaurant has one, sort of), election results, football and whatever else happens to be on his mind.

Like all the parents who’ve preceded me and those who will succeed me, I begin to realize the limits of my influence. Our elder son, only six, is clearly growing up and doesn’t need us like he used to. He will experience many of life’s trials and tribulations without our interpretation. Not that we’re shy about expressing our opinions to him but we also know he needs to experience life sometimes without the benefit of our experience. Because if he doesn’t, he may never become the well-adjusted, self-sufficient adult he needs to be.

This is a difficult moment for any concerned parent: It’s that time when you realize that your once little, helpless, bundle of joy, who can now walk, talk and think on their own, is working as hard to be as independent from you as you once did from your own parents. It’s that alarming moment, a day of reckoning if you will, when you realize you now understand all the concerns and worries your parents once had for you – and may still have in spite of the many years you’ve been alive.

Before long, we’ve left the coffee shop and find ourselves at school. Given the weather, I, along with all of the other parents, pull up as close as possible to the entrance so he has a short walk into the building. I get out the van, help him with his backpack and give him two bags, one filled with snow-pants, the other with boots. He always seems overloaded.

Before he leaves my presence, I tell him I love him, how smart he is, and to learn a lot in school. He says good-bye, turns around and waddles toward the door. I usually remain standing next to the van, until I see he’s safely inside the building. Call me overprotective. I’ll plead guilty to the charge.

As he’s making his way toward the door, his pace quickens and this look of confidence comes across his face. He’s ready for whatever challenge awaits him. All at once, I’m overwhelmed with a deep sense of pride and a longing for days since past. I’m suddenly jolted into realizing that our little Buckaroo is growing up faster than I prefer. And the same thing happens every morning – tears fill my eyes.

Monday, December 08, 2008

My experiences with Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

Debtor in Possession are three words you never want to see on your paycheck. But if you’re a Tribune Company employee, those are words you’ll soon see emblazoned across your paycheck. It’s warning to the banks: The company you work for is in Chapter 11Bankruptcy.

It also tells the banks that the check is good because, should it bounce, the check issuer, in this case Tribune Company, very likely risks going into Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, which involves closing up shop and liquidating whatever assets remain. And if there’s anything Sam Zell and his bankers probably don’t want right now, it’s a Chapter 7 filing.

I still remember those three words being on every check United Press International issued. It gave every bank cashier and/or clerk I dealt with some pause before cashing a check that had been issued to me by the company.

I experienced Chapter 11 more than 20 years ago when I worked for UPI. It was one of the most turbulent experiences in my professional career. In Chapter 11, you soon learn that there are no sacred cows and that everyone is dispensable.

In UPI’s case, the revenue stream, shrinking as it was, could no longer keep up with the company’s cost structure. If UPI’s management wanted the company to continue, it needed to borrow money. But to do so, the banks wanted to protect the money they were lending. As a result, UPI filed for Chapter 11, where it remained for about 18 months until it was purchased by a newspaper publisher from Mexico, Mario Vazquez-Rana.

Mr. Zell can say what he wants about being in firm control of Tribune, but the fact is the banks, especially J.P. Morgan Chase, are running the show. They may not have their own people sitting in the executives suite today, but they’ll be there soon. And they’ll start appointing their own people into Tribune’s management. People they can trust.

The same thing happened at UPI. Suddenly people with no experience in the media business, but plenty on Wall Street, wound up in charge. Each of them had to come up to speed on the company – its nuances, history and competition, employees and clients – so they understood the situation they faced. Some were successful at this; others were complete disasters.

The bankers have one mission – get paid. Mr. Zell can say he wants to keep the company intact, but that’s the bankers’ last and least concern. They want their money – and they’ll do what they need to do to get it, especially given today’s economic and financial climate.

I count my lucky stars (if I can use that phrase) that I experienced this when I was months shy of my 23rd birthday. The many UPI people who were older than me, laden with kids, college payments and mortgages, didn’t always hold up so well. Some left UPI for greener pastures. Some divorced; and some just hunkered down and did their job.

Chapter 11 is exhausting. It challenges you mentally – how do you look out for Number 1; pay your bills; handle your unpaid expense account; make the business you run work; keep people motivated; handle a spouse’s and/or family members (nagging) questions; plan for the future – and it’s also physically challenging. You feel beat up and, at times, powerless and helpless.

It can also bring about a gallows humor. At UPI, in Dallas, where I worked when the company entered into Chapter 11, a bank, right next to our office, where many of us had checking accounts, stopped honoring our paychecks. They told us we had to wait three to five days for the checks to clear before we could access the money. You can imagine the uproar that created.

So one of my colleagues, Dan Dalton, suggested we rent a school bus, pick up the homeless around Dallas, give each of them UPI credentials and then send them into the bank, telling them that the bank was holding a party in their honor. That would show the bastards, said Dan.

Tragically, we didn’t follow up on that idea. Reflecting back on that day now, we should have. It would have been fun.

My biggest challenge, at the time, was paying $1,500.00 in charges I’d racked up on my American Express card, which I’d used on the many sales trips I’d made. I still remember talking to some nice man at American Express, explaining that I couldn’t pay the bill. I later borrowed money from my dad so I could pay the tab.

And, as I recall, I bounced one or two rent checks as a result of UPI’s Chapter 11 filing because there were some problems with payroll.

Hopefully, the many things I went through at UPI will not happen to Tribune employees.

I feel awful for the many talented professionals working at Tribune who now have to deal with this. Sam Zell won’t suffer. But the many employees who’ve staked their lives and careers on Tribune will likely find that they’re bearing the brunt of this situation. That’s what makes it completely unfair.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy for Tribune?

The Wall Street Journal reports today that Chicago-based Tribune Company, owner of the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, six other daily newspapers, a number of television stations, plus the Chicago Cubs baseball team, may seek Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection.

What’s surprising is the Lazard, which is also handling the sale of the Chicago Sun-Times and Sun-Times Holdings, has apparently, according to the Journal, been retained to find a buyer for the assets of the Tribune Company, if not the entire company itself.

It begs the question whether Lazard has a conflict of interest because they’re working for two companies that compete with one another in Chicago.

Tribune Company went private about a year ago when real estate mogul Sam Zell purchased the company. The tragedy, however, is that instead of having the money to outright buy the company, he put it into debt, to about the tune of $13 billion.

Given the size of the company, most days a debt of that size might have been easy to handle. But before the deal was even closed, Zell’s bankers were concerned about the deal because Tribune’s revenue stream was declining.

There are no asset sales on the horizon for Tribune Company – which kept the bankers at bay – so, as the Journal reports:

“The company's cash flow may not be enough to cover nearly $1 billion in interest payments due this year, and Tribune owes a $512 million debt payment in June.

”One of Tribune's most pressing concerns: The company is likely to be in violation of debt terms that limit borrowings at the end of the year to nine times its adjusted profits. The ratio stood at 8.3 at the end of the second quarter, before Tribune reported an 83% decline in operating profit for the three months ended Sept 28.”

It was reported about two months ago that the Cubs, coming off of a good season, plus an appearance (albeit brief) in the playoffs, could command a price in the $800 million range. If Tribune Company goes Chapter 11, it’s difficult to say if such a reported price would hold up.

In addition, two years ago, David Geffen, significant player in Hollywood, was offering $2 billion for the Los Angeles Times. Here, again, if Tribune goes Chapter 11, it’s questionable if that price will hold. (Even if Tribune wasn’t seeking Chapter 11 protection, it’s hard to say if, given the state of the U.S. newspaper industry, that price would hold up today.)

McClatchy, based in Sacramento, owner of a number of daily newspapers, recently restructured its debt terms. Tribune may be able to do the same and avoid Chapter 11.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Papers missing in action as technologies develop

MIAMI — For Gloria Formosa, one of this city’s leading stock brokers, it’s an
absolute necessity she remain informed about the day’s news headlines.

Entrusted with millions of dollars of her clients’ money, she and her customers
know that an uninformed broker can make investment mistakes that can result
in costly — even ruinous — mistakes.

That’s why, shortly after Formosa wakes up and starts her morning routine, she
suddenly becomes aware of the day’s top news stories. What’s more, she does this
without using a Web site, turning on her BlackBerry, listening to the radio, watching
television or even reading a printed copy of her local paper, El Herald.

Earlier this year, Formosa, 45, did something a lot of women her age might not be expected to do: She had herself injected with nanobots, microscopic-size robots programmed to receive and deliver Bloomberg News Service headlines and
stories, stock and commodity prices — 24/7 — directly to her brain.

By the time she’s dressed, Formosa has a good idea of how the markets will perform
that day.

“I’m always updated,” she said. “With nanobots, I’m never caught off guard by
some event that could affect my clients’ investments. I’m way ahead of the game!”

In addition to being used to treat heart ailments, correct blood pressure and monitor
diabetes, nanobots are now employed by some news services, like Bloomberg and
Thomson Reuters, as a means of keeping their audiences informed throughout the day. There’s a chance, their executives say, that nanobots could even replace their
Web sites.

— The Wall Street Journal, “Invasion of the Nanobots: One Broker’s Attempt to
Stay Informed,” Sept. 3, 2032

While this scenario might seem like something out of a science fiction novel, there’s a better than even chance it just might happen. Nanotechnology is already in use, and nanobots — microscopic-size robots — will soon be employed to help people fight diseases, expand their minds and, perhaps, update them about the news.

Indeed, a host of recent technological developments, which include flexible display,’s Kindle, The Plastic Logic reader and nanotechnology, should force the daily newspaper industry to start answering a tough question: What will society look like a generation from now?

Consider the U.S. Army’s Army After Next program. Created after the first Iraqi War, this program was designed to help the Army determine how to defeat threats it might encounter in 30 years. Now called Unified Quest, the program today encompasses all military branches, intelligence agencies, the State and Treasury departments, and academics in cultural anthropology. The goal remains the same: formulating possible
solutions to the threats, wars and battles the United States may encounter a generation from now.

“These guys make your head hurt when discussing future scenarios,” said Harvey Perritt, a spokesman for the Army’s Training & Doctrine Command Headquarters in Norfolk, Va. “Even NASA shows up at these meetings, laying out how space might play a
role in any future scenario.”

Similar approach

The daily newspaper industry should undertake a similar intellectual exercise,
exploring how it will operate 30 years from now. The technology that’s on the
immediate horizon will further modify how consumers view newspapers. As a result, newspaper publishers must determine how it will own the future and remain competitive in an even more technologically advanced setting.

A sampling of what’s on the horizon:

•The Flexible Display Center, at Arizona State University, is developing, in
conjunction with the Army, technology that will spawn a variety of new products
including laptops with foldable screens. The Army funds the Center because it
plans to equip soldiers with PDAs, laptops and maps using this technology.

“Flexible display glass is rugged, lightweight, bendable and roll-able,” said Greg Raupp, the Center’s director. “It brings a new ball game of whole new products.”

The Center’s annual budget is about $14 million, with about $10 million coming from the Army and the remaining $4 million coming from industry sources and the university. As of now, though, there isn’t a single newspaper or media company sponsoring the Center.

Raupp said a newspaper company could sponsor the Center for a minimum of $50,000 annually to reap some benefits from the research. The cash outlay can be reduced if a newspaper can provide other value to Center projects, Raupp said.

•, attempting to sell more books in this digital age, is selling the Kindle, a handheld, wireless reader that downloads books, magazines and 17 different newspapers, among them The New York Times.

While Amazon says newspapers are a key Kindle partner, the Webtailer’s primary goal is to sell more books. The Kindle offers consumers a new reading and buying experience of print media. While it’s difficult to say how well Kindle sales are doing — Amazon refuses to release those numbers — devices like it will become more popular.

•Plastic Logic, a Mountain View, Calif., firm, last month demonstrated its flexible e-newspaper reader. The Plastic Logic Reader offers users a larger screen than the handheld, wireless reader from The Plastic Logic device — which goes on sale next June — is built with proprietary flexible display technology. The whole screen is active; there are no buttons.

Plastic Logic is talking to newspaper publishers about making their content available on their new, wireless reader, according to Vice President of Marketing Joe Eschbach.

“We’re ideally suited for newspaper content because the formats of newspapers are respected along with their branding and we can support their advertising.” He said the Reader “will be priced for massive adoption — quickly.”

Looking ahead

Author, futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil says that 21st century technology will focus on “making things smaller.” In an essay published in the book Invisible Future: The Seamless Integration of Technology into Everyday Life, Kurzweil said that nanobot technology “will be feasible within 30 years.”

“Nanobot technology will … expand our minds in any imaginable way,” wrote Kurzweil. “Brain implants based on … nanobots will ultimately expand our memories a trillionfold … and since the nanobots are communicating with each other over a wireless area network, they can create … new hybrid biological-nonbiological networks,” Kurzweil said.

Army spokesman Perritt says nanotechnology is already employed by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan so they can see around corners before risking a fatal turn.

Unfortunately, just as with the development of the Internet, not a single newspaper is helping direct the course of these new technologies. The way newspapers will be consumed and perceived, by readers and advertisers, a generation from now is being determined with no input from newspapers.

The question the daily newspaper industry needs to answer is this: Will it catch up, join, lead or be left behind as this technology becomes reality? Will the newspaper industry own its future or will it repeat its current behavior — massive layoffs and continued downsizing of its printed product — just as it has reacted to the competition it’s experiencing from the Internet?

Consider options

Kurzweil says the world will experience 20,000 years of progress in the 21st century. The newspaper industry must start determining its future — today.

Consider this warning from Marshall McLuhan in his book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man: “The classified ads (and stock market quotations) are the bedrock of the press. Should an alternative source of easy access to such diverse daily information be found, the press will fold.”

That book was published in 1964.

Imagine, the newspaper industry might be a thriving business today if it had taken the time 44 years ago to consider all of the possible future threats — no matter how far-fetched — to a key revenue stream.

What will the daily newspaper industry look like in 44 years? Maybe the nanobot knows.

Editor's Note: This article, written by the correspondent to this blog, first appeared in the October 2008 edition of Newspapers & Technology magazine.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

CNN & The Associated Press -- Celebrity Death Match?

The announcement that CNN would start selling its own branded news wire service reminded me of the time, about 11 years ago, when I suggested that Tribune Media Services, my employer at the time, start selling the network’s Web content.

It was clear then, as it is now, that CNN had stopped being just a broadcaster. It was also in the print business. And, through its Web site, it demonstrated that it was a viable competitor to The Associated Press, Reuters and other traditional wire services, at least on national and international stories.

As a former Unipresser, (ex-United Press International employee for those of you not familiar with the lingo and the AP’s largest competitor until about twenty years ago), I’m the first to say that the AP is a tough rival. It’ll do whatever is necessary, including price cutting, to keep its clients, called “members” by the AP, in line.

So if CNN’s Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide, which will lead this undertaking, is having thoughts that his company will replace the AP, which possesses a near monopoly position with U.S. daily newspapers, his thoughts are delusional. The AP’s value doesn’t come from the stories it files from Washington, top cities around the country or even from various international datelines. It comes from the state reports.

If CNN wants to outright replace the AP, they’ll likely have to do what they thought they’d never do – provide a credible state report in all 50 states. That takes a lot of bodies, a lot of bureaus and, last but not least, a lot of money.

AP state reports are concocted through a combination of the wire service’s own reporters (if they can bother to get off their collective duffs to cover a story) and whatever their “members” contribute to the local, statewide AP report.

That’s right. The newspapers buying the AP service are required, by their contract with the news service, to also provide stories and pictures, produced by their own staff. That’s why the AP calls their clients “members” – not “clients.”

There’s a world of difference in the terms. A “member” is someone who shares an organization’s burden while a “client” is someone who pays for a service and, rightfully so, expects a decent product and decent, if not outstanding, customer service in return. At the AP, both of those things are, like, so yesterday, which is one of the reasons there’s no such thing as a satisfied AP customer or member, if you prefer.

This is one of the reasons that The Times story on Monday focused on The Columbus Dispatch, one of the largest daily newspapers in Ohio. The Dispatch, along with a few other newspapers in the Buckeye State, is working hard to drop the AP. The Dispatch and a few other newspapers regularly share their stories with one another. There’s a chance that The Dispatch and its group of rogue newspapers (as the AP sees them) will be able to provide one another with enough statewide coverage that they’ll able to drop the AP all together; at The Dispatch, this means a tidy annual savings, somewhere in the $800,000 range, according to The Times.

The national and international report that the AP provides can be easily replaced – for a lot less money – by purchasing other supplemental news services, including the Gannett News Service, the McClatchy-Tribune News Service, the Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service, The New York Times News Service and, perhaps, even Reuters.

Newspaper editors are frustrated, if not intensely angry, at the AP. The problem is that the AP business model – extortionary pricing for no or damn little customer service in return and a state report that’s as good as what the “members” contribute because the AP can’t be bothered to do much original reporting – is finally obsolete. At least that’s the appearance of the situation right now.

What gives me pause here is that the Dispatch’s attempt to form its own news cooperative is eerily similar to how this problem came about. One hundred and sixty years ago, a group of 10 men representing New York City’s top six newspapers formed a news agency. They named it The Associated Press.

So what The Dispatch and some of its fellow Ohio newspapers are doing is nothing new. The question is can they do a better job of providing what the AP has done for more than a century.

The AP’s problems are larger than Monday’s New York Times story let on. In addition to the new competitive threat from CNN, their tribulations include Tribune Company, owner of the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, The Hartford Courant, The Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, to name a few, which cancelled its AP contract. (It’ll take two years for Tribune to drop the AP service.) Other newspapers, sources tell me, have, in some cases, stopped paying their AP bill.

What’s playing out here involves two issues: 1. The economics of the newspaper industry, which are declining faster than anyone had ever anticipated, and 2) decisions made by both UPI and the newspaper industry about thirty years ago, which only exacerbated the AP’s already over-inflated sense of self worth.

The newspaper industry is primarily a print medium. And though revenues to its Web sites are increasing, they still don’t match what they bring in on the print side. In addition, the industry’s audience is fleeing the print product for the free one on the Web. This is because the industry has never figured out how to create value for the fantastic service, in some cases but not all, it provides through its printed editions.

The revenue decrease is forcing industry executives to make difficult calls. They include eliminating jobs, sections, areas where they previously sold copies, and outsourcing certain job functions; editors are dropping features and, as has been seen, seriously considering dropping their largest news content supplier, the AP.

UPI’s problems started back in the 1950s, when its forerunner, the United Press, merged with the Hearst-owned International News Service to form UPI. UP’s owner, the EW Scripps Company, named Scripps-Howard at the time, forced the new organization to give up the United Features Service, (later renamed United Media) which provides comics, columns and puzzles to newspapers. That meant that a large and very significant portion of the UP revenue stream was not transferred to the newly formed UPI. This meant that UPI’s future was based on a general news and picture service for newspapers and a broadcast wire and audio service for broadcasters.

UPI’s primary client base had been afternoon newspapers. As those papers stopped publishing in the 1960s and 1970s, the revenues at UPI declined. Some of the revenue loss was made up by selling the service to morning newspapers as well as to broadcasters, including CNN. Still the revenue slide couldn’t be stopped and the company lost money.

In addition, UPI’s owner couldn’t be bothered to invest in the service. A number of initiatives were brought to the attention of the UPI’s owner, but EW Scripps executives couldn’t be bothered to act on them, or, in some cases, even hear them out.

The last serious push to save UPI was done in the late 1970s, when the company attempted to sell a limited partnership to U.S. newspaper companies. Working against the plan was UPI’s owner, which insisted that it remain the largest shareholder and refused to give any of the limited partners much of say about UPI’s direction.

There was a Canadian newspaper publisher who was more than willing to sign up for the same deal that had been tabled to U.S. daily newspaper executives, but the forward-thinking EW Scripps executives rejected the overture because that would mean foreign ownership of a U.S. news service.

In addition, the level of UPI’s news gathering began to fall and, as a result, a number of editors felt they were better served signing up for the higher priced AP instead of paying for the cheaper service at UPI. A number of UPI sales executives, including yours truly, told newspaper editors they didn’t want to make the AP their only content provider.

Some editors continued with UPI, in spite of their reservations; some dropped UPI because they were tired of dealing with all of UPI’s problems (which were numerous), and others dropped UPI because they had delusions of grandeur, which included becoming part of the AP Board. The end result – AP was sitting in the driver’s seat.

CNN will face some of the same issues that UPI did. CNN is a profit center for a publicly held company, Time Warner, and its actions are dictated by one thing – the Almighty Profit Margin. CNN can afford to launch this service now because it’s flush with revenues; they always surge during national political campaigns – or any news event that gets people to tune in or head to their Web site. CNN, like UPI, will have to provide a strong value proposition for any editor to consider buying the service. CNN will run into all kinds of resistance from newspaper editors, including some who simply cannot imagine life without the AP at their paper.

In addition, the AP is a non-profit. Because it’s under no obligation to make money, the AP will slash and burn their rate card to prevent their membership base from eroding.

One of the questions that newspaper executives will need answered is what the CNN wire will look like during times of relative peace and quiet. While that day might seem hard to imagine right now, it will happen. Will CNN be able to provide the same level of service then that it can provide today, when revenues are healthy?

While a part of me very much likes the idea of CNN fighting the good fight against the AP, another part of me says this is much ado about nothing. The newspaper industry is filled with intransigence, which prevents it from taking the actions it needs to take to remain a healthy, viable industry. Newspaper executives will sing CNN’s praises publicly, but whether they’ll actually sign contracts for the network’s news wire is an entirely different matter.

So Mr. Walton, if I have any advice for you, it’s this: Keep your expectations modest.


Deadline Every Minute: The Story of the United Press, Joe Alex Morris. New York: Doubleday and Company, 1957.

The Associated Press: The Story of News, Oliver Gamling. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1940.

United Press International: Covering the 20th Century, Richard M. Harnett and Billy G. Ferguson. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing, 2003.

"CNN Pitches Wire Service To Compete With The A.P.," The New York Times, Tim Arango and Richard Perez-Pena, December 1, 2008, pp. B3.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Does Dean Singleton read this blog?

I have no idea. But given his latest pronouncements about potential cost-cutting moves, it appears the chief executive officer of Denver-based Media News, owner of more than 50 daily American newspapers, is very much taking direction from a piece I posted on this blog more than 20 months ago.

In it, I suggested that newspaper companies would outsource editing functions to a company in Vietnam. This was part of a fictional account (maybe not so fictional after all) of what happened the day the last U.S. daily newspaper, The Shenandoah Valley News, located in southwestern Iowa, stopped producing a printed edition. (Yes, the newspaper really does exist – at least as of this writing.)

The tragedy of Mr. Singleton’s pronouncement, as reported in yesterday’s New York Times by Maureen Dowd, is that it will likely come true. There have already been reports about newspapers in California attempting to outsource not only editing functions – but also reporting functions – to companies located outside of the United States.

The Chicago Tribune, about two years ago, led some of this outsourcing initiative, when it farmed out its call center – the people who answer the phone if you call to complain about your newspaper delivery, cancel your subscription or put the paper on hold while on vacation – to a company based in the Philippines. Now when you call about your subscription, someone in Manila answers the phone.

It doesn’t take too much of an imagination to consider that, as Mr. Singleton sees it, his newspapers reporters, after writing their stories, would send them via e-mail to a copyeditor on the other side of the globe, who would simply look for grammatical errors.

With any luck, before the story is printed, there will be someone back at the local newspaper to question the reporter about their sources, put the story into context and add anything that might be missing to the article. Given Mr. Singleton’s plans, and his previous behavior, which includes the ability to squeeze out every last penny out of every newspaper he owns, don’t count on it.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the company providing this editing service was found in India. Given that India is home to call centers as well as jobs requiring a high-end skill set, it’s not too much of a stretch to believe that the former British colony might very well provide the employees editing English-language newspapers, including those in the United States.

Besides being cheaper, one of the reasons that India is home to jobs that require service skills as opposed to manual labor is because they once hosted a professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Norbert Wiener. This scientist, who assisted in the birth of the Information Age, and much of the technology we take for granted today, including cyberspace, told India’s top leaders to concentrate the country’s economic development on high-tech jobs – not manufacturing ones – about 50 years ago. Not only did India listen to Dr. Wiener, they acted on his advice.

(For more on Dr. Wiener, either buy or check out of your local library a recent biography of him, entitled Dark Hero of the Information Age: In Search of Norbert Wiener, The Father of Cybernetics, by Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman. It’s a great book and well worth your time, especially if you’re curious about the beginnings of the technology that surrounds us today.)

Mr. Singleton’s actions are par for the course in the American newspaper industry. Like the American automotive industry, this is an industry that’s been told numerous times to produce a product that people want to read and advertisers want to buy. And, too often, when it realizes that the audience has slipped away and that advertisers are reducing the amount of money they spend on newspapers to reach consumers, the American newspaper industry looks like a deer caught in the headlights.

Maybe Singleton and his fellow newspaper CEOs will borrow from the playbook of their cohorts in the American automotive industry and make a trip to Washington to beg for a federal bailout!

Singleton’s announcement is one in a long litany of cost-cutting moves. The newspaper industry has yet to provide a plan to restore its financial health. It slashes jobs, reduces the size of its papers, eliminates many of the sections that readers enjoyed, cuts back on the editorial content and then has the audacity to raise its cover price. As thinking goes in the newspaper industry, this passes for strategic planning. Is it any surprise that people who use to pay for a newspaper instead go to its Web site, which is free, read two or three stories and then consider themselves updated on the day’s events? Not at all!

Jim Oberweis owns a local dairy that sells some of the best milk and ice cream I’ve ever tasted. (He’s also a frustrated local politician who can’t seem to run a winning campaign, which is just fine with me. I’d never vote for him.) But if you order home delivery of his milk, it arrives at your doorstep in a case that keeps the milk cold until you place it in your refrigerator. Jim and his team truly show pride in the way their product is handled.

The newspaper industry would be well served to take a hard look at how Oberweis handles home delivery of its milk. If the newspaper industry stopped believing it produces and delivers a cheap, throw away product, it would take the time to deliver its product right to the doorstep – not the end of a driveway, where it’s subject to weather conditions – with the same care that Jim Oberweis delivers milk. This would demonstrate to its readers that the newspaper industry truly produces something to be treasured – not just a piece of trash.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

U.S. History in the Middle East

One hopes that Joe Biden knows his history, especially if he’s called to the Oval Office to advise President Obama on the next steps the United States should take against Middle Eastern terrorists.

Perhaps a Vice President Biden will recall the Betsy, the Maria and the Dauphin, American-owned merchant ships that were seized by Middle Eastern pirates, becoming the first victims in the war on terror – way back in the eighteenth century.

What, you say? The war on terror wasn’t created by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the diabolical Donald Rumsfeld, the most evil man to ever occupy the defense secretary’s office?

No, the war against Arab terrorism is almost as old as the country itself, stemming back to the 1780s, when those three American merchant ships were hijacked and seized by Arabian pirates.

The “evildoers” back then were pirates from the Barbary sheikdoms of Morocco, Tunis, Algiers, and Tripoli. American political leaders were so alarmed by these attacks that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, on diplomatic duty in Europe, were ordered to negotiate a peace treaty with the sheikdoms – or, as we would say today, find out how much of a bribe the United States needed to pay annually so U.S. ships would no longer be attacked.

George Washington, frustrated with seeing American merchant ships attacked, by both Arab pirates and European navy ships, proposed the construction of the U.S. Navy during the last year of his presidency. The first Navy ships that were built would, at President Jefferson’s direction, successfully attack the Barbary Pirates, providing the young country with its first military victories since the Revolution.

Part of the reason that the United States finds itself fighting Arab terrorists is because the U.S. embraced ideas that were sprung from John Locke and the European Enlightenment, concepts that advance, endorse and support the notion that markets should be free, government should be limited, religion should be kept at an arm’s length (at least from the government), and that people are endowed with natural human rights, allowing them to live as they see fit, accepting any religion they find suitable, and selecting those who seek to govern them. In addition, the United States accepts the notion of tolerance, property rights and rule-of-law.

The acceptance of the ideas from Locke and the European Enlightenment, and the advancement of them, led the United States and its western Allies to become economically successful, tolerant of variety of people, and politically viable; these ideas stand in stark contrast to the beliefs of Arab jihadists, who are quick to blame others for all that ills their countries and their fellow believers.

That’s the word from Melvin E. Lee, a U.S. Navy captain based in Naples, Italy, where he serves as the special operations officer for the Sixth Fleet. He wrote this nearly 3,700 word article, “The Fallacy of Grievance-based Terrorism,” for the Middle East Quarterly, earlier this year.

Capt. Lee, who recently completed his master’s degree at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Penn., has written an outstanding article that is heavily sourced. He provides solid research, showing that a number of high-minded thinkers are coming to the same conclusion – Islam must embrace the ideas of John Locke and the European Enlightenment so its followers and its citizens no longer live in a ghetto; failure to accept these ideas and the Islamists will continue to resort to terrorism to resolve their problems. A former submarine commander, Capt. Lee provides a detailed account of U.S. actions in the Middle East for more than 200 years.

“Only Islam’s fundamental reform will resolve the conflict” between the United States and the terrorists, writes Lee.

In the interests of full disclosure, your correspondent knows Mel Lee. We went to college together and shared a suite in one of the residence halls. Lee, a double major in physics and chemistry, was (and, as far as I’m concerned, remains) the sharpest knife in the drawer. After receiving his bachelor’s degree, he pursued his Ph.D. at the University of Arizona but cut short his studies to pursue his naval career.

Capt. Lee is an excellent Navy officer and I hope that one day he’s advising a president on national security. I’ll rest easier at night knowing he has the president’s ear on complicated and delicate issues.

Capt. Lee’s idea – that Islam needs to reform itself – has been accepted by other leading thinkers. Max Rodenback, the Middle East correspondent for The Economist, in reviewing the Brookings Institution’s Kenneth M. Pollack’s latest book, A Path Out Of The Desert: A Grand Strategy for America in the Middle East, compliments Pollack for concluding that terrorism coming from Middle Eastern (Arab) states will not end until “they manage to produce better schools, more opportunities for youth, wider social justice and more inclusive, accountable government.”

Rodenback went on to say, in his New York Times review, that Pollack was quite right to admit that “George Bush showed unwonted acuity when he called for draining the swamps of extremism by promoting reform.”

This is a recipe for democracy.

You can find Capt. Lee’s article here:

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Michelle Obama: Clinton and I Conceived a Love Child

By Combined Wire Services

HONOLULU – Attempting to unify the Democratic Party ahead of its presidential convention, Michelle Obama, wife of the presumptive presidential nominee, announced today that she and former President Bill Clinton had a sexual encounter and, as a result, she’s carrying his baby.

With tensions running high between the supporters of U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, (D-IL), his party’s presumptive nominee, and his defeated rival, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, (D-NY), pressure has been building from major financial contributors and the party’s top politicians for the two senators to find a way to unify their supporters, thereby ensuring a successful convention and increasing the chances of Senator Obama’s victory in November, said a Democratic political operative, requesting anonymity.

While it remains uncertain about who first approached the topic, it was thought that the only way that Clinton and Obama voters would unify behind the Democratic party’s presidential nominee was if the senators and their spouses jointly conceived a “Love Child,” said the political operative.

“I wouldn’t exactly refer to this baby as a ‘love child’ because, man, that was some nasty action,” said Mrs. Obama during the news conference in Honolulu, where her family is vacationing. “I put a pillow over my head and thought about the greater cause as he, you know, did his thing.

“Damn, she was great,” said the former president about Mrs. Obama’s sexual abilities during a news conference at his New York office. “This was some of the best sex I’ve had since Monica Lewinsky blew me in The White House.

“And you know what they say, ‘Once you go black, you never go back,’ man, it’s so true,” added the former president. “My next girlfriend will definitely be African American.”

“Those ‘Unity’ barbeques weren’t working. The party remained divided, so I did what so many women before me have done – had sex with my political rival, so we can end this spat once and for all,” Mrs. Obama said.

“But let me make one thing clear. I don’t know what the attraction for him is all about because he’s no great lay,” said Mrs. Obama, who, campaign aides said is in her first trimester. “Size matters and you white girls are getting cheated.”

Asked why they didn’t conceive the baby through in vitro fertilization, Mrs. Obama said, “We wanted to show our two constituencies that we’re able to put our hate for one another behind us and engage in an intimate moment.

“It didn’t even last four minutes, so it wasn’t too bad,” added Mrs. Obama.

“It’s important that we’re successful in November, so I enthusiastically supported Bill and Michelle’s decision to have an unprotected sexual encounter,” said Senator Clinton.

Senator Clinton, 60, said that she had offered to have a sexual encounter with Senator Obama but, after consulting with her gynecologist, realized she was likely too old to become pregnant.

Because of her age, 44, Mrs. Obama chances of becoming pregnant were better, Senator Clinton said.

“So that’s when Bill and I decided it was in the best interests of the Democratic Party that Bill impregnate Michelle,” Senator Clinton said.

Aides to both campaigns wouldn’t discuss who first proposed the idea of an Obama-Clinton baby.

“With unity like this, victory is assured,” said U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, (D-MA), one of the party’s leaders and an early supporter of Senator Obama’s presidential bid. “I commend President Clinton and Michelle Obama for coming together in such a remarkable way.”

Political analysts weren’t surprised to learn that this statement was released just ahead of the Democratic Presidential Convention, scheduled in two weeks time in Denver.

“This is what we’ve come to expect from these parties,” said Washington Post writer George Will. “They work to bring all factions together, especially before the party meets for its presidential convention.”

“It wasn’t so long ago that kings and queens married off their children to potential rivals so they could preserve peace, establish joint interests and come together for a cause that was greater than themselves,” said historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. “This is just the modern day version of that. It’s no big deal.”

“Of course, we’re hoping for a white, girl baby,” said Senator Clinton, signaling that there could still be further divisions between her supporters and Senator Obama’s.

“I just want a baby that Clinton supporters finds cute and cuddly,” said Mrs. Obama. “If it’s black, even better.”

Mrs. Obama refused to answer questions about when and where the sexual encounter happened, but Obama campaign aides, wishing to remain anonymous, said it happened at a highly unlikely location – a Motel 6, along Interstate 80 in Iowa.

“Hillary watched the encounter to make sure that when Bill was done, he didn’t stick around to do, you know, anything else with Michelle,” said an Obama spokesman. “Senator Obama was in the hotel’s bar, incognito, having a drink while all of this was going on.”

“I had to double up on the Viagra but it was worth it,” said former president Clinton, describing how he prepared himself for his sexual encounter with Mrs. Obama.

Reacting to this news, campaign aides to U.S. Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, said they couldn't think of any reason for the Senator or his wife to have sex with anyone.

"Republicans don’t have sex," said a spokesman for the campaign. “Our babies are conceived by immaculate conception.”

Details about child support payments, visitation rights and who will bring up the baby are being negotiated by aides to both the Clinton and Obama presidential campaigns.

“Abortion is off the table – unless we lose the election,” said Mrs. Obama.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Coffee, Tea or Me: One Airline's Answer to Profitability

Combined Wire Services

CHICAGO – So they’ll have the money to serve Starbucks Coffee to their passengers once again, United Airlines announced Tuesday that newly minted prostitutes will replace its aging fleet of flight attendants.

“If this doesn’t work, I give up,” said Glenn Tilton, the airline’s chief executive officer, as he announced the changes at the Chicago-based carrier. This latest policy comes on the heels of charging passengers for checked luggage, which was announced earlier this year.

“Our customers have been beating me up about the loss of Starbucks,” Tilton said. “This is the only way I know how to get the money we need to bring back this premium item: Start selling an additional service – which people will buy.”

United plans to replace two rows of seats in the coach class section of its planes with what’s described as “comfort rooms,” where the carrier’s prostitutes and passengers will be able to engage in private, intimate activity, Tilton said.

“Of course, we’ll need to swipe a passenger’s credit card for $500 before anything happens,” he said. “But it’ll be the best lay … I mean 15-minute, intimate experience … our customers will ever receive.

The prostitutes, fresh off the streets of Amsterdam and other cities across the globe, will start working for the airline during the end-of-year holiday season.

“You could call it our way of making the Friendly Skies friendlier at United,” Tilton said. “Not only will our passengers arrive at their destination safely and on-time but, if they so choose, with a big smile on their face – and maybe with a Starbucks latte in hand, too.”

The airline’s customers will be able to reserve a prostitute when they buy a ticket on the carrier’s Web site. Passengers waiting to pick up a prostitute after they’ve boarded will be charged a 20 percent premium, or $600, for their 15-minute, intimate encounter.

The carrier’s flight attendants are expected to be replaced by December. Tilton said the “comfort rooms” should be completed on all of United’s planes at the same time.

Tilton said the airline will be able to accommodate a variety of sexual tastes and preferences.

“Our prostitutes will come in all shapes, sizes and genders,” Tilton said. “We’ll have male prostitutes, female prostitutes, even transgendered ones, too, so we can successfully service all of our customers – regardless of their sexual orientation.

“These prostitutes will also do all jobs our customers have come to expect from our current fleet of excellent flight attendants.”

Asked if the airline’s prostitutes will engage in sexual activities that might be considered unconventional, Tilton said, “We’ve formed a task force to uncover this issue and make recommendations for accommodating a variety of sexual requests that might be considered, uh, unusual

“Condoms must be used at all times,” he added.

In addition, Tilton announced that United will create a new customer loyalty program, called the Mile High Club. Passengers will be able to accumulate miles on their Mile High Club card as they buy the prostitutes.

United expects revenue from the prostitutes to generate 20 – 30 percent of the carrier’s total annual revenue, or an additional $4 and $6 billion a year.

“With money like that, we’ll be able to serve Starbucks again,” said Tilton. “It’ll be free, too, just like the soft drinks, and we’ll be profitable.”

Wall Street applauded the new policy, taking up the company’s stock (symbol UAUA) five points to close at $17.30.

“I’m going long on United because this is the kind of out-of-the-box thinking we’ve been waiting for from them,” said Morningstar financial analyst Brian Nelson. “It’s fantastic! They’re a leader in their industry.”

Calls placed to American Airlines, Delta and Southwest Airlines were not returned but financial analysts following the airline industry expect United’s competitors to offer similar services.

The Association of Flight Attendants, the union representing United’s fight attendants, is expected to hold a news conference on Wednesday to discuss the airline’s pending changes.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Senator Edwards Explains America and Sex

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Former U.S. Sen. John Edwards, once his party’s vice presidential nominee, used his presidential campaign theme on Saturday to explain his recent exploits, saying there are some Americans who are committed to sexually monogamous marriages while there are other married Americans like himself “who fuck around.”

“Unfortunately, I got caught,” said the former North Carolina Democrat, admitting to having engaged in a sexual liaison with a California movie maker.

The former Senator is the second prominent Democrat this year to admit to having sex outside of his marriage. Eliot Spitzer, never accused of having a libido, resigned from the New York’s governor’s office in March because of the sexual services he purchased from a prostitute.

“There are two Americas,” former Senator Edwards said. “There are married Americans who are committed to remaining sexually monogamous in their marriage and then there is another America, consisting of married men and women, who, like me, fuck around on their spouse.”

Asked if there was any comparison to the former New York Governor, Edwards said, “There are two Americas. There’s the one that pays for sex and then there’s other that gets it for free – kinda like me.”

The former Senator’s wife, Elizabeth, battling cancer, refused to issue any comment about the affair.

“There are two kinds of wives,” Edwards said. “There’s the kind of wife who puts out and who, by doing so, keeps her man safe at home, and then there’s the kind of wife who engages in risky behavior and refuses to have sex with her husband.

“She’s the one who loses her man,” Edwards said.

“We don’t really know what a ‘sexual liaison’ is,” said a man who’s no stranger to dalliances outside of his marriage, former President Bill Clinton. “He (Edwards) coulda just received a hummer and, according to the Constitution, that’s not really sex.”

“Less than one percent of all American women have had sex with me,” said Edwards. “I plan to get back out on the campaign trail to give more American women the opportunity to have sex with me.”

Asked if there was anything in particular he was looking for in a potential sexual partner, Senator Edwards, smiling, said, “As long as it’s a woman who’s over 21 – and she’s not a complete double bagger – I’m in.”

Monday, May 05, 2008

New Social Networking Site -- Funded & Thriving

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – The newest social networking Web site comes with a whole new twist: Instead of encouraging its members to connect with friends and professional acquaintances, this Web site wants its members to list their enemies.

“,” funded by a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Alliance Capital, claims more than 10,000 members and another 1,000,000 enemies.

“Unlike your average LinkedIn member, our members aren’t full of shit,” said James Lee, the 24-year-old chief executive officer of LinkedIn was one of the first companies to establish itself in the social networking space.

“The average member of our site has around 100 enemies and they hate each and every one of them – with a passion,” said Lee.

“Let’s face it, no one who connects with someone on LinkedIn or any of those other social sites really wants to be someone’s friend,” said Lee. “It’s just a place for frenemies to meet.

“Our members are honest. If they say they hate you, they really hate you,” Lee added.

Lee, who started during his freshman year at Stanford University, says that members of his site just list their enemies.

“There’s none of this b.s. like asking for permission to be someone’s enemy. Our members just list their enemies and that’s it. They’re done!”

Members can view one another’s enemy list, Lee said, to make sure they’re hating “the right people.”

“If you and another member have someone you hate in common, that’s even better,” said Lee.

When told that his site sounded like another version of President Richard Nixon’s enemy list, Lee, looking somewhat confused, asked, “When was he president?”

Members of are encouraged to increase their enemies list as fast as possible.

“The member who lists the most enemies any given week can win prizes, trips, even a car,” said’s membership vice president Toby Benwick.

Perfect people to list as enemies, Lee said, include “anyone who ever dissed you or anyone you refer to as ‘ex’. That could be an ex-girlfriend, wife, husband, boyfriend, lover, employee. Bosses are always good.”

Members are encouraged, Lee said, to post pictures and video clips of the people they hate.

“Our staff always does a round of high fives if a member’s enemy dies,” said Benwick. “That’s just the coolest.”

Membership to the Web site is free. Sponsors for the Web site include divorce attorneys and various hate groups, including the Ku Klux Klan. Not to be outdone, the Nation of Islam is considering what Benwick describes as a “huge” sponsorship opportunity on the site.

Details are being finalized, Benwick said, for some of the site’s members and their selected enemies to make special appearances on various daytime television talk shows.

“We look forward to our first smack down with the people,” Jerry Springer said through a spokesman for his television show.


Friday, April 18, 2008

The Illinois Earthquake

Unless you’ve cut yourself from all media – not always a bad idea – you likely heard that there was an earthquake in Illinois, a truly shocking event because they’re considered California-only tragedies.

Chicago television and radio stations started reporting the news about the earthquake – it happened at 4:37 am – within 30 minutes of the tremor. It measured about 5.2 on the Richter scale and was centered around 250 miles south of the Windy City.

The experts have been predicting an earthquake for years in Illinois, but they always figured it would involve the New Madrid Fault, one of the more dangerous fault lines in the country that stretches from Indianapolis to St. Louis to Memphis.

Today’s earthquake, reported the Chicago Tribune, happened “occurred in the Ozark dome region.

Not that any of this matters. The only time this information will mean anything to anyone will be when or if there’s an earthquake that’s sizably larger, say around an 8 on the Richter Scale, that brings down skyscrapers in cities like Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis or Memphis. Until that time, today’s tremor – enough to wake up some people but not cause an incredible amount of damage – will soon be forgotten.

What was interesting about all the television reports this morning, at 5 am, was how many people felt compelled to call in and talk to the anchors. One lady mentioned that she originally thought her husband was turning over in bed when she felt the earthquake. How much does this guy weigh?

For a number of women, married, single, divorced, separated, etc., I’m guessing this is the first time they felt the earth move in a long, long time.

This could be a major sales opportunity for the marital aide companies.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Vicar of Baghdad

Editor's Note: I've met Canon Andrew White during his visits to Glen Ellyn's St. Mark's Episcopal Church. He's better known as the vicar of Baghdad, the only Anglican priest still working in the city. The words below are his and were printed in The Times of London on Monday, March 17.

"Five years ago today I had real hope that things would soon change in the nation of Iraq, after years of tyranny, dictatorship and suffering. Unlike any other non Iraqis I meet now in Iraq, I had been here before the war. I had experienced the fear and tyranny of the Saddam regime and I openly said we needed force to bring change. I knew that this could not be done by the Iraqi people. I feared what would happen to the people I loved during the days of the war. I was full of joy when the war finished so soon and I quickly returned to the nation I loved. On returning I found a sense of liberation, joy and freedom. There was a joy I had never seen before. Chaos was certainly there but we hoped it would soon cease. I will never forget the words of the top British General telling me to leave my return for a couple of weeks because 'security should then be sorted out'. Five years later it has still not been sorted.

"It is impossible to really describe what it is like here in Baghdad. I live in the fortified International Zone but even here I am surrounded by my bodyguards at all times and we can't move without carrying the right pieces of plastic ID around our necks. When we do move we can't move more than five miles an hour, have to stop every few yards a different security barriers and when we get to them the colour of your piece of plastic dictates how quickly you will be allowed through. All very intense, but it does not compare to my regular trips to St George's Church.

"This journey begins at the home of the Iraqi National Security Advisor. I am driven into the security compound by my bodyguards and transferred to the care of the Iraqi Army. With body armour on, I take my seat in an armoured car with blackened windows. Other military vehicles surround us and slowly we drive through the IZ stopping at it countless checkpoints. Eventually we leave the IZ and are met by an array of Iraqi police cars and further military vehicles. The sirens go on, guns are pointed out of the windows of all the vehicles and we speed down the road. If we meet a traffic jam, the other cars are yelled at through loud speakers and they try and make way. If that does not work our whole convoy just moves to the other side of the road, and moves the wrong way quickly down the road. At every crossroad, the police have stopped all other traffic. We come to the road where the church is- the road is closed off. We speed to the Church and drive into the grounds. The army run to surround the church, others check that it is safe and I am eventually allowed out of the car to be met by scores of our children.

"With the army remaining inside and outside we begin our worship. My mind goes back to the days before the war. There was none of this kind of security, and there was no congregation at our Church, why because it was Anglican. Commonly it is still known as the English Church. Our congregation is large, our worship wonderful but I only need to look at our people to realise what has really happened here following the war. We only have six men in our congregation of several hundred, the rest have been killed. Many of even the young women wear black as they are still mourning the loss of their husbands. Scores of people have been kidnapped, even this year. So from the pulpit every week I see the effect of war on these people. It is impossible for us to forget the tragedy outside. We hear the guns shooting and the bombs blasting and we simply continue worshipping. After the service food is provided for the whole congregation- we alternate; one week it is food the next week money. If we do not give, they do not have. The cost of this provision is colossal and it is primarily provided by Churches in England. Every week thanks go out to those who enable our people to live.

"So we can not forget the tragedy now, it is all around. I cannot forget the Iraq before the war, and the fear and oppression that were experienced everyday. I can not forget either the mistakes made after the war. The continual lack of engagement with the religious community and the continued belief that the secular position of Iraq would supersede was dangerous and naïve.

"Despite the many mistakes that have been made I still do not regret that the war happened. I regret deeply what happened after the war. I take hope from the work of the Multi National Forces in Iraq, not least the US and UK troops; they are doing an outstanding job. I also take hope from the way that the Iraqi Army is developing, and from the work of Dr. Mowaffak Al Rubbaie, Iraq's National Security Advisor, and General Dave Petraeus the Chief US Military Officer.

"Reconciliation is certainly needed here. It is at the very heart of our hopes in the rebuilding process. It is a process that must involve both the political and religious leaders. To this end we are met in Copenhagen from 18th February with the religious and political leaders of Iraq to try and find a way forward and to work together on this very point. It has taken months to get this meeting together but with the support of the Danish Government it did happen. We wait to see its results. Last week we met in Cairo with Sunni and Shia religious leaders, including the deputy of Muqtada Al Sadr and the representative of Ayotollah Ali Sistani. Top Sunni Clerics were also there. A total rejection of all violence was pronounced. It was a major achievement. This week a major reconciliation conference organized by the Iraqi Government is taking place. It is between political groups but key representatives have not shown up. The reality is that in our meeting last week in Cairo we had far more groups represented and it was paid for by the Pentagon. Reconciliation is the only answer. We still have a very long way to go but we can't give up.

"It can not be denied that the last five years here have been terrible. That all around we see such devastation. All I can say is that we cannot and must not give up our efforts to rebuild this once great nation. It is so hard, there are many days when we just wonder how more difficult it can get, but we have a big God on our side and we know that with His help we will succeed."

Coffee with Barack, Hillary and John

“So-called ‘global warming’ is just a secret ploy by wacko tree-huggers to make America energy independent, clean our air and water, improve the fuel efficiency of our vehicles, kick-start 21st- century industries, and make our cities safer and more livable. Don’t let them get away with it.” Chip Giller, founder,, for the environmentally concerned.

“You can’t lead the people, if you don’t love the people. You can’t save the people, if you don’t serve the people.” Cornel West, professor, Princeton University

“The most important thing in life is to stop saying ‘I wish’ and start saying ‘I will.’ Consider nothing impossible, then treat possibilities as probabilities.” David Copperfield, Emmy-Award winning illusionist.

“When I wake up in the morning, I want to know that my family, friends and fans know what I believe in and what I’m all about. That’s what should be important.” Robert Randolph, Musician, music heard on XM Satellite Radio Channel 75

“Can I just get a damn cup of coffee – fast?” Doug Page, blogger.

If you’re a Barack Obama voter, those phrases from the back of Starbucks’ coffee cups are more than just quotations. They’re Scripture. Those passages move you to action, define you as a person, tell you how to live, what to consume and influence your vote. You’re an “aspirational” consumer, marketers say.

If you’re Hillary Clinton voter, however, the highlight of your day just might be a Dunkin Donuts cup of Joe with a cholesterol-laden doughnut. Your values were determined by what you read in your newspaper, saw on television, heard on the radio and the amount of money in your checkbook.

Hillary voters don’t need no stinkin’ philosophy, especially if it’s on a coffee cup. They’re lunch-pail Democrats, whose outlook was formed by the University of Real Life, the School of Hard Knocks.

That’s the word from Gerard Baker, a columnist for The Times of London, who observes the United States first hand. A British citizen, Baker comes as close as anyone lately to being a modern-day Alexis de Tocqueville, that famous Frenchman who witnessed and wrote about Americans during the 19th century.

“Mr. Obama’s supporters are the latte liberals. These are the people for whom Starbucks, with its $5 cups of coffee and fancy bakeries, is not just a consumer choice but a lifestyle. They not only have the money. They share the values,” wrote Baker after February’s Super Tuesday presidential primary.

“They live by all those little quotes on the side of Starbucks cups,” Baker said.

Mrs. Clinton, on the other hand, “is the candidate of what might be called Dunkin Donut Democrats. They do not have the money to waste on multiple-hyphenated coffee drinks – double-top, no-foam, non-fat lattes and the like … They are the .75-cent coffee and doughnut crowd,” Baker said.

So, in an attempt to confirm Baker’s point – not that I have any reason to doubt him – your correspondent spoke to the public relations people at both Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts.

Here’s what they said:

The phrases were placed on the coffee cups to spark a conversation, said the Starbucks spokeswoman. Starbucks sees itself, in the United States at least, as offering up the American version of an Italian café, where people gather to drink coffee and pontificate about life.

While an interesting an idea, I’ve never once seen a Starbucks consumer read those quotations and use it as a means to strike up a conversation, either with someone they know or don’t know. So Starbucks notion that someone will use these quotes to start up a conversation seems, at the very least, presumptuous.

“We have accepted submissions from very different kinds of people with varying points of view,” she said. In other words, left-wing and right-wing extremists have an equal shot (no pun intended) of having their words published on a Starbucks cup.

Anyone can submit their words of wisdom for consideration on a Starbucks cup by going to and then clicking on the way i see it on the left side of the page.

Under no circumstance – this is important for you Hillary voters to understand – is Starbucks sending our messages, through its coffee cups, suggesting that Democrats vote for the junior Senator who’s successfully winning the latte vote. He’s doing that all by himself, thank you.

Starbucks would not release details on how many submissions they’ve received; the spokeswoman said that each submission is reviewed by a committee. She would not say who sits on the committee or the criteria used to judge which submissions are printed or discarded.

At Dunkin Donuts, they see themselves very differently from Seattle's coffee behemoth and, possibly to Starbucks detriment, they’ve got their coffee competitor figured out.

“We’re not an aspirational brand,” said their spokeswoman. “We serve great coffee to be consumed wherever our consumers wish to drink it.

“People come into our stores, get their coffee and doughnut and then go to work,” she said. “They don’t have time to hang out and talk, which is why our stores are usually empty.”

Indeed, in a quick drive around Chicago’s western suburbs, Starbucks cafés were filled with patrons while the Dunkin Donuts stores had, at the most, one person sitting in them.

Sixty percent of all Dunkin Donuts revenue comes from coffee sales, the spokeswoman said, making coffee a high priority for them. She wouldn’t release revenue figures because the company is privately held.

Dunkin Donuts has no plans, the spokeswoman said, to print quotations on the side of their coffee cups.

So what are we to make out of all this coffee stuff? Are Barack voters the only ones who are aspirational? Are Hillary’s voters only pedestrian? What kind of coffee do Republicans drink?

I wish I had the answers but calls placed to the Obama, Clinton and John McCain presidential campaigns on their candidates’ coffee preferences went unreturned. I have noticed, in some of the television coverage, that Senators Clinton and McCain appear to drink Starbucks coffee. At least they’re holding Starbucks cups. I’m unable to confirm what’s in them. So far, I’ve not seen a Starbucks cup in the hands of Sen. Obama. (Perhaps he’s a closeted Starbucks drinker – just like he’s a closeted smoker.)

What does all this mean?

People running for president of the United States are aspirational – regardless of their coffee or their party affiliation. They believe they’re a force for positive change. And it’s my guess that many of their most enthusiastic supporters are equally aspirational – regardless of their coffee and how they take it.

Editor’s Note: Yours truly grew up in a day and age in journalism when it was considered inappropriate not to identify sources – unless of course there was some specific reason that required someone to go unidentified. In this particular article, I’m not naming the spokeswomen because they asked to remain unnamed.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

In the future: Governor romantically linked to top donor and male escorts; refuses to resign

Combined Wire Reports
SACRAMENTO, March 19 – A defiant and unapologetic Governor Juanita Hernandez today confessed to purchasing male escorts and engaging in an extramarital affair, saying the sexual liaisons provided her with “an emotional and physical high that has long since left” her marriage.

Gov. Hernandez, 50, married with three children, was the first woman elected governor of California and the first Latino to hold the job. In a hastily called news conference today, she confirmed rumors linking her romantically to Craig Theborg, 55, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, as well as using male escorts.

“I want to put a stop to all these rumors right now,” the governor said. “Craig Theborg and I have been seeing one another for the last five years. Yes, it has been a romantic relationship. I have been with male escorts but not for what you think.

“I did it because my marriage is on the rocks,” the governor said. “These interludes provided me, especially the ones with Craig, with an emotional and physical high that has long since left my marriage.”

The rumors about the governor, the male escorts and Mr. Theborg, a longtime financial contributor to her campaigns, surfaced two days ago, when photographs of the governor, Mr. Theborg and male escorts were posted on a number of Web sites, including and, a Web site owned by a tabloid newspaper, the New York Post.

The pictures showed the governor embracing and kissing Mr. Theborg, as well as entering a Sausalito motel room with him. Other pictures showed the governor presumably with male escorts in restaurants around the San Francisco metropolitan area.

In spite of a likely legal investigation into the governor’s use of the escorts, she plans to remain in her job and says she will run for re-election. The governor refused to provide any details of her involvement with the male escorts.

“I’m not stepping down,” the governor said. “I will be the governor of California until my time in office is up. I may have broken God’s law but I didn’t violate any State and Federal laws.

“And, yes, I will run for re-election.”

The governor would not discuss her marriage to Glen Droit, 53, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, Boalt School of Law. She would not discuss her future plans with either her husband or Mr. Theborg.

The governor, a Democrat and a former state attorney general, campaigned two years ago on a platform to cut the state’s crime rate as well as to put a halt to illegal immigration. She defeated San Diego businessman John Walker, a Republican, in her run for the governor’s office.

“I was sent to Sacramento to do a job, and I plan to do it,” she said. “My marriage, my relationship with my children, and my relationship with Craig are my business and no one else’s.”

Asked if she was sorry for her actions, the governor said, “If I need to apologize to anyone, I’ll do so in private – not to you. The most important thing is the children. I very much love my children and don’t want to hurt them.”

Gov. Hernandez, Mr. Droit, and their three children, two teenage sons and a daughter, live in Berkeley; the governor has been living by herself in the governor’s mansion in Sacramento, returning to the family’s home on weekends.

Mr. Droit could not be reached for comment. University officials said he conducted his classes yesterday.

“Our heart goes out to Glen and his family,” said Robert Tomlinson, dean of the Law School.

Mr. Theborg, a venture capitalist in Palo Alto, was an early investor in Google. According to his firm’s Web site, Theborg and Associates invests in technology companies. Phone calls to his office were not returned.

Theborg, a longtime donor to the Democratic Party, has chaired the finance committee for Hernandez’s campaigns for attorney general and her gubernatorial campaign. According to, he’s donated $20,000.00 to the Democratic Party and another $12,000.00 to Hernandez’s three state-wide campaigns.

Gov. Hernandez said she met Theborg at a Democratic Party fundraiser in Los Angeles while she served in the State Assembly.

The state attorney general’s office would not return phone calls, inquiring whether they would investigate the governor’s use of male escorts or any possible discrepancy between the governor’s actions and the donations she’s received from Theborg. The U.S. Attorney’s office in San Francisco would also not comment about their possible actions.

Meantime, political support for the governor appeared to be holding up.

“The way she handled herself, standing up there all alone in front of all those cameras, this was so very brave of the governor,” said National Organization of Woman chairwoman Patty Stompt. “We’ll support her in every possible way.”

“Women have sexual and emotional needs, too,” said 85-year-old Gloria Steinem, a
longtime leader in the women’s rights movement, from her offices in New York. “For too long we’ve only associated men with sexual needs. That’s just not true. I say to Governor Hernandez, ‘You go girl.’”

“Anyone who’s ever been married understands her feelings,” said California Assemblyman Joe Hugo, D-Fresno. “I’m not saying she’s right in what she did but, you know, there are a lot of people who understand.

“I’ll continue to support her – politically and personally.”

Republicans in Sacramento refused to comment on the governor’s announcement.

The governor’s plans to remain in office put a damper on the political career of her lieutenant governor, Henry Lee. Lee, 48, a former mayor of San Francisco, is expected to remain in office, helping the governor with her legislative plans.

“He will not resign over this,” said a member of Lee’s staff who wished to remain anonymous.

Ms. Hernandez, the daughter of farm workers, grew up in Fresno and graduated from California State University in Fresno in 1992 before heading to the University of California, Berkeley, Boalt School of Law, where she met her husband. They were married shortly after she graduated.

She moved to Los Angeles in 1995 to work for a law firm before heading into public life. She was elected to the State Assembly in 2004. She became the state attorney general 2006 and was re-elected in 2010. She worked for a law firm in San Francisco before being elected governor in 2018.

Asked about her use of male escorts, the governor said, “The world’s oldest profession serves the world’s oldest need.”

Friday, March 07, 2008

The history of the American presidency & what Lyndon would do

“In the United States … the national political agenda is a product of careless comparisons … The media contribute to this … Almost continuous political campaigns also contribute, for ‘ins’ have to allege that things are better now than they used to be, while ‘outs’ have to charge that things are getting worse. And the public at large has little immunity, first because change inheres in ‘the American way of life;’ second because most people have not had much schooling in history; and third because they have been so deluged with ‘news’ denoted ‘crisis’ that the memory cells are cluttered.” Richard E. Neustadt & Ernest R. May, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers. New York: The Free Press, 1986.

If you caught Sen. John Kerry’s endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama, just ahead of the South Carolina presidential primary, you likely heard the Massachusetts Democrat say that America’s most transformational presidents were young men.

“Since the birth of our nation, change has been won by young presidents and young leaders who have shown that experience is defined not by time in Washington or years in office, but by wisdom, instinct and vision,” said Sen. Kerry in January, reported The New York Times.

There’s only one problem with Mr. Kerry’s conclusion – it’s wrong. The junior Senator from Massachusetts, educated at an Ivy League school, shows, with his endorsement, little knowledge of American history.

Of the eight men elected president while in their 40s, only two have been of any consequence: James K. Polk, a Democrat, and Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican. The others, which include Franklin Pierce, Ulysses S. Grant, James Garfield, Grover Cleveland, John Kennedy and Bill Clinton, were of little significance in the course of American history.

To be fair, both Garfield and Kennedy were assassinated, bringing their presidencies to a quick and unfortunate halt; there will always remain questions about what their presidencies could have been and, tragically, for their sake and ours, those questions will remain unanswered.

Should his wife win both the Democratic presidential nomination and this year’s presidential election, Bill Clinton’s legacy might improve. His will be seen as the launching pad for the first woman to be elected president.

If Sen. Obama is elected president, he’ll be the ninth U.S. chief executive to be inaugurated before turning 50. If the past is prologue, the odds are stacked against Sen. Obama’s presidency being anywhere near successful. It’s likely to wind up in failure. At the very least, a President Obama won’t come close to meeting his supporters’ expectations.

Presidents Polk and Roosevelt, taking the oath of office at the ages of 49 and 42, respectively, can lay claim to being some of the country’s more transformational and successful presidents. Compared to the many of their presidential peers, both men showed high amounts of executive skills, leadership ability, rugged determination, courage of their convictions, were opportunistic and, when necessary, conniving and ruthless in accomplishing their goals.

Looking back at the 42 men to have held the presidency, only 10 come close to being considered transformational or held the job during a period of time when the country underwent fundamental and wholesale change. These 10 showed all the traits listed in the previous paragraph. They also had something in common: They were, more often than not, older than 50 when elected president or, prior to their White House years, had a record of executive leadership.

Those presidents include Thomas Jefferson, James K. Polk, Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan.

George Washington and Andrew Jackson deserve special mention. Washington set the tenor and tone for the presidency; his most important accomplishment was showing how a president abides by the Constitution, something that has gone all too underappreciated. Washington was the “indispensable man” because, at a time when the country was vulnerable to being taken over by a despot, he demonstrated, instead, how a president could live within a new political system.

One of Washington’s greatest accomplishments was to improve the country’s standing in the world’s leading capital markets of his day. That was when he agreed to Alexander Hamilton’s plan for the federal government to acquire the bonds the individual states had written to fund the Revolutionary War. By supporting Hamilton’s initiative, and seeing it passed by Congress, the young nation found a new source of revenue beyond tariffs and taxes. Suddenly foreign speculators in places like Amsterdam were buying the new U.S. government-backed bonds.

Washington’s presidency, however, is not transformational. Which doesn’t mean it’s any less important. His presidency was about establishing the country, placing him on a higher pedestal which no other president, no matter how successful, will ever ascend. Washington stands alone, and no one stands with him.

Jackson, one of the more colorful characters to have ever occupied The White House, was, compared to his immediate predecessors, the first common man to hold the office; his presidency, while marked with some historic events – the Nullification Proclamation and the closure of the Second Bank of the United States – did not transform the country. Jackson is the first president to stand up to the South, thereby enforcing the Constitution.

Here are some highlights of our most successful, transformational and consequential presidents:

• Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd president, doubled the size of the country through the Louisiana Purchase; by doing so, he showed the power of the presidency because he negotiated and signed the agreement with France without consulting Congress. This might go down as the first presidential violation of the Constitution. He also successfully fought the Barbary Pirates by launching a Naval and Marine strike against Tripoli. The Barbary Pirates, the terrorists of that time, and had been attacking U.S. shipping. Their defeat meant that the United States no longer paid them tribute. Prior to becoming president, Jefferson had been Virginia’s governor, the U.S. secretary of state and vice president. He was 57 when he became the president.
• James K. Polk, the 11th president and the first president elected while in his 40s, brought Mexico to its knees, forcing it to surrender all of its territory north of the Rio Grande River. This gave the United States territory that stretched from Texas to California. Had Polk been more ambitious, perhaps even ruthless, or had more control over his diplomat negotiating with the Mexican government at the war’s conclusion, he could have annexed all of Mexico, bringing our southern neighbor’s existence to an end. While the Mexican-American war was in full swing, Polk successfully negotiated a treaty with Great Britain, forcing it to surrender its claims to the Oregon territory. He did this by appearing to be a war-monger and the British fell for the bluff. With these two accomplishments, Polk sees to it that the United States is a country that stretches, as the song goes, from sea to shining sea. And it was all done in the course of one presidential term. Before becoming president, Polk had been speaker of the House of Representatives and governor of Tennessee.
• Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president, successfully fought the Civil War and ended slavery, thereby allowing the United States to live up to its proclamations about being a country that supported and promoted freedom for all Americans regardless of their race, creed and religion. Lincoln was 52 when he became president and had little executive experience prior to his White House years.
• William McKinley, the 25th president, a former Ohio governor and Congressional leader, transformed the United States into an empire by defeating the Spanish during our war with them in 1898, giving the United States its first territorial possessions outside of its boundaries, including the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico and, for a while, Cuba. McKinley had never wanted to go to war but events and public opinion forced his hand; the most significant victory of the war was the Navy’s defeat of the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay. It put the world’s considered top naval authorities, which included the British and German Admiralties as well as the Japanese, on notice that they had a new rival for command of the high seas. McKinley was 54 when he was inaugurated as president.
• Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president, came to office just shy of his 43rd birthday. His was an accidental presidency; he had been McKinley’s vice president and became president on McKinley’s assassination. Prior to becoming vice president, Roosevelt had been New York City’s police chief, New York’s governor and assistant secretary of the Navy. During his nearly eight years as president, Roosevelt’s transformed the United States into a world power. He ended the Russo-Japan war; sent the Navy on a worldwide tour, showing the world that the United States was no sleeping giant. He supported a revolution in Columbia so the territory that would become Panama could separate and become its own nation; and then, because of his support, Roosevelt successfully negotiated a treaty with the new Panamanian government for the Canal that would completely transform worldwide shipping. It also gave the United States the ability to transfer its naval ships between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans with ease, making the United States a two-ocean power. In addition, he ended a railway trust and became the country’s first “green” president by safeguarding and enlarging parts of the country from development.
• Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president, had been the governor of New Jersey and the president of Princeton University prior to becoming president of the United States. The most significant accomplishment during his presidency was the establishment of the Federal Reserve Bank, thereby giving the United States an effective monetary policy that’s outside of the control of the president. He also reversed a long standing tariff that had protected American industry, and he established the Federal Trade Commission, which is empowered to investigate corporate practices. His other domestic accomplishments included passing a child labor law and limiting railroad workers to an eight-hour day, something that would become part of American lexicon. He led the United States into World War I but his attempts to make the country more influential on foreign affairs were defeated by Congress. Wilson set American foreign policy for most of the 20th century when he said that the United States would fight in World War I "for things which we have carried nearest to our hearts -- for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free people as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free ... America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured." This proposition, the centerpiece of American foreign policy, has been advanced by Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Wilson was 56 when he took office.
• Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd president, was 51 when he was inaugurated. Prior to becoming president, FDR had been the governor of New York and, like his presidential cousin Theodore, an assistant secretary of the Navy. FDR transformed the United States into a world power by leading the country into World War II and seeing to it that had a say in global events after the war. He also pushed legislative action to end the Depression, called the New Deal, which increased the government’s role in the economy. Two of his most significant accomplishments include establishing the United Nations and the Social Security Administration.
• Harry S. Truman, the 33rd president, was the first Cold War president. He established U.S. foreign and military policy so that it could counter the Soviet Union’s attempts to achieve worldwide communism. This would become a bipartisan initiative. HST succeeded FDR upon his death in April 1945. Some of his most significant decisions included using the atomic bomb to bring about Japan’s surrender during World War II; establishing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; the Truman Doctrine; and bringing about racial integration of the military. Truman was 60 when he took office.
• Lyndon Johnson, the 36th president, because of his years in Congress prior to becoming John Kennedy’s vice president, successfully pushed through much of the legislation that Kennedy initiated but failed to have enacted by Congress. Besides FDR, there was likely no greater presidential force on Congress than Johnson. And because he knew just about everything about every member of Congress, he saw much of his proposed legislation, called The Great Society, successfully voted upon by Congress. The Great Society program included the 1964 Civil Rights Amendment; Medicare; Medicaid; the war on domestic poverty; the Equal Opportunity Act; and Head Start. Johnson’s accomplishments also included establishing the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The great tragedy that affect’s Johnson’s legacy is the Vietnam War. Had he either unleashed his military commanders so they could fight the war as they saw fit or, instead, decided to remove U.S. forces from the Republic of Vietnam early in his presidential tenure, his legacy would be much brighter. Still, all in all, LBJ was highly effective and very much a transformational president. LBJ was 55 when he took office.
• Ronald Reagan, the 40th president, goes down as the oldest man to ever be inaugurated; he was just shy of his 70th birthday when he took the oath of office. During his presidency, he showed the Soviet Union that it would cost them far more than they had ever anticipated if they were to carry on the Cold War. Reagan forced them to the bargaining table through a strategy that was simple but understood, “We win, they lose.” By his actions, he forced the downfall of the Soviet Union and thoroughly discredited communism as credible politics. The departure of the Soviet Union made the world safer in some ways, more dangerous in others. By defeating the Soviet Union, without firing a shot at it directly, Reagan put an end to an issue that had plagued American foreign policy and military planners for nearly half of the 20th century. Prior to becoming president, Reagan had been a labor leader and a two-term governor of California.

So what makes for a transformational president?

Transformational leadership, as defined by Pulitzer Prize winning historian James MacGregor Burns, in his book Transforming Leadership: A New Pursuit of Happiness, involves bringing about “a metamorphosis in form or structure, a change in the very condition or nature of a thing, a change into another substance, a radical change in outward form or inner character … It is change of his breadth and depth that is fostered by transformational leadership.”

Transformational leaders, Burns writes, “define public values that embrace the supreme and enduring principles of a people … Such values are not ordinarily part of the daily discourse of the citizenry. But at testing times when people confront the possibilities – and threat – of great change, powerful foundational values are evoked. They are the inspiration and guide to people who pursue and seek to shape change, and they are the standards by which the realization of the highest intentions is measured.”

It is impossible to predict what anyone will be like as president. The best ones never entered the job thinking their presidencies would stand out more than others. They were certainly ambitious politicians but they never thought they’d achieve all that they did.

The most successful and meaningful presidents knew what they wanted to do once they took office. President Polk stated that he’d expand the country during one presidential term, which may make him the only president to have lived up to all of his campaign promises. He didn’t run for re-election. Franklin Roosevelt, elected during the Depression, knew the economy needed help; he didn’t think he was going to fight Germany, Japan and Italy and discredit fascism. Witnessing Jimmy Carter’s presidency, Reagan knew he had to free U.S. hostages from Tehran and reduce Soviet influence. He never thought he’d wholesale defeat Soviet-style communism and liberate Eastern Europe.

Some of our better presidents entered office thinking they would do something entirely different than they did. Woodrow Wilson thought he’d spend his time working on domestic policy, not fighting Congress over the country’s role in global events. On his inauguration day, Lincoln did not see himself as the great emancipator. McKinley would have been perfectly happy to serve out his time in office with Spain possessing Cuba and its islands in the Pacific. The term “Cold War” hadn’t been invented when Harry Truman became president.

So what made these presidents better than others?

There are two things that stand out in their backgrounds: First, they more than likely came to the presidency with a record of executive leadership; second, they were more than likely over 50. Their record of executive leadership provided them with experience in working and leading a legislative body; it also gave them experience in leading a public body of voters and citizens. With the exception of Presidents Polk and Theodore Roosevelt, their age likely provided them with the confidence they needed to make difficult decisions, face troubling times and, perhaps, understand the nuances of the human condition.

There was also something that each successful president possessed, executive ability. Each one had the ability to understand the issues critical to success and then make the necessary decisions to turn their vision into reality.

In The Paradoxes of the American Presidency, authors Thomas E. Cronin and Michael A. Genovese suggest that presidential leadership comes from having vision, skill and political timing. “The most important ‘power’ a president can have is to present … a clear and compelling vision” for the future, they write. Visionary presidents include Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt and FDR; each is remembered for the ideas that they had on the country’s role.

Skill is shown by knowing to act when certain opportunities either present themselves or knowing what to do bring about attainment of political goals. Cronin and Genovese suggest that presidential executive skills are important but that success is also dependent on the task as well as the opportunity presented. This sounds like McKinley and the Spanish-American War. The authors say that “more experience (in politics) is better than less experience” in making a president successful.

Other important skills for presidents to possess, the authors say, include people skills. “They must know how to persuade, bargain, cajole and co-opt.” Think LBJ and the ‘Johnson Treatment,’ something the 36th president would bestow on wavering Congressman and Senators unsure of their vote on something near and dear to LBJ. Personality skills and self awareness also make for successful presidents, the authors write. Managerial skills, the authors write, help a president understand the institutional issues they face.

A president’s personal skills are also important, the authors say. A president “must be disciplined, intelligent, have stamina, show sound judgment and act with maturity. Good presidents are creative, empathetic, and expressive. They must also have a sense of humor, and learn to control their temper. President Reagan’s self-effacing sense of humor served him well as president, it disarmed his opponents and won over much of the public.”

Political timing, the authors write, is highly important in determining success for a president. A president-elect must know what they’ll do during their first 100 days in office. This is typically when a president holds the most clout to accomplish their goals. “Strong twentieth-century presidents such as Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan began with clear goals and pushed Congress to approve bold new programs,” the authors say.

The presidency is, on the one hand, a magnificent job, and, on the other, one filled with potential pitfalls. Americans want, simultaneously, a president who will solve their problems as well as one who will not interfere in their daily lives. At least too much.

Authors Cronin and Genovese propose nine paradoxes involving the American presidency and the American public. They include the fact that while Americans want a strong president who can solve the nation’s ills, the citizenry is equally suspicious of “strong centralized leadership.” Americans also seek a presidential candidate who can unify “diverse people … but the job requires taking firm stands, making unpopular … decisions that … upset and divide.” One of the greatest paradoxes, write the authors, is that what it takes to be elected president is often entirely different from what it takes to govern from the Oval Office.

So given what’s known about the most effective presidents we’ve had, so far, how should we vote during the remaining primaries and in the coming election? Some of that answer relies on your politics. If you’re a Democrat, and have yet to vote in the primary, you have two choices, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. If you’re a Republican, you’re likely supporting John McCain.

The best presidential candidates, based on historical information, are Senators Clinton and McCain. They’re over 50 and have some experience in executive leadership. They’re also well aware of how Congress operates and know its members. Their age and experiences will make them more effective at the presidency, should they be elected, than Sen. Obama, who’s still serving his first term in the Senate.

Sen. Obama’s resume is weak in accomplishment. Yes, he’s charismatic speaker and offers up a wonderful vision of the country. But, so far, he does not have any significant victory in public life. When Reagan hit his presidential stride in 1980, he, too, offered up wonderful speeches for what the country would look like if he was elected president; the difference between Reagan and Obama is that he’d been an effective governor of the nation’s largest state. Sen. McCain has campaign finance reform to his name; Sen. Clinton’s failed initiative to reform healthcare, during her years as the First Lady, provides her with great insight on what needs to be done to make healthcare more accessible to all Americans – and how to get it accomplished. Failure can often lead to success.

Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers, by Richard E. Neustadt & Ernest R. May, was originally intended for people in government. The idea behind the book was to educate government decision makers on a few historical examples, so they’d know to use previous experiences, historical ones even, as they considered policies that would affect the future.

You may wonder, then, what this means to you. If you’re a citizen, and a registered voter, you are the government. The lessons of Neustadt and May equally apply to you as to any government policy maker. Know the past, think in time, and you’ll likely make a better decision about the future. The authors’ lessons especially apply to you as you consider who you will vote for in the upcoming election. If you’re a Democrat, your best choice is Sen. Clinton. If you’re a Republican, even though the presidential primary is effectively concluded, your best choice was always Sen. McCain.


This year’s Democratic presidential primary, if you heard the endorsement from Sen. Ted Kennedy and his niece, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, is akin to the one in 1960, when another young charismatic Senator from Massachusetts, John Kennedy, ran for the nomination. He was up against some of the Democratic Party’s best veterans, Senators Humphrey, Symington and Johnson.

Johnson lost the nomination to Kennedy at the Democratic Presidential convention in Los Angeles. Johnson, Kennedy thought, had been the best Senate Majority leader in the country’s history. And while Kennedy didn’t like Johnson, he knew he needed him on the ticket to be elected. Johnson would strengthen the ticket’s standing in the South and the West.

Johnson could have remained in the Senate but he knew his position as majority leader would be very much diminished if Kennedy was elected; he also knew that Richard Nixon, if elected president, wouldn’t be as gracious to him as President Eisenhower. He was caught between a rock and hard place. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., the noted historian, has suggested that Johnson thought his presence on the Kennedy ticket would help the South move into the twentieth century.

Johnson, however, had to be convinced to take the job. A number of his advisors told him not to accept Kennedy’s overtures. What moved Johnson especially was the counsel he received from his political mentor, former Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, who told Johnson, in essence, it would be beneficial for him, as well as the country (and Texas) if he joined Kennedy’s ticket.

It appears that Senators Clinton and Obama are on course similar to that of Kennedy and Johnson. And the question is who will make the phone call to suggest to either Senator to join the other’s ticket, so the party is unified for the general election. Possible candidates for this task include but aren’t limited to former Vice President Al Gore, former President Jimmy Carter, former Vice President Walter Mondale and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

Who will be the great unifier for the Democratic Party? It remains to be seen.

If LBJ were alive, he’d tell that Senator, either Clinton or Obama, to accept the other’s invitation to be on the ticket. The election, he would say, must be won. The party needs to unify for the good of the country, he would say. And if the Democratic presidential ticket – whether it’s Clinton-Obama or Obama-Clinton – is elected, it would be a culmination of the civil rights battles that LBJ had fought for during his career. There’s no better way to mark the 36th president’s 100th birthday.


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