Friday, November 07, 2008


"In short, we live now in the Age of Post-Journalism. All that was before is now over, as this generation of journalists voluntarily destroyed the hallowed notion of objectivity and they will have no idea quite how to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again."
- Victor Davis Hanson
In the 3rd book of his history, Thucydides has some insightful thoughts about destroying institutions in times of zealotry—and then regretting their absence when there is a need for refuge for them. The mainstream press should have learned that lesson, once they blew up their credibility in the past election by morphing into the Team Obama press agency.

There will come a time in the year ahead when either Obama's unexamined past will come back to haunt him, or his inexperience and tentativeness in foreign affairs will be embarrassingly apparent, or his European-socialist agenda for domestic programs simply won't work. And as public opinion falls, what will MSNBC, the New York Times, the editors of Newsweek, a Chris Matthews or the anchors at the major networks say?

Not much—since they will have one of two non-choices: (1) either they will begin scrambling to offer supposed disinterested criticism, which will be met with the public's, "Why should we begin believing you now?" or "Why didn't you tell this before?", or (2), They can continue as state-sanctioned megaphones of the Obama administration in the manner that they did during the campaign. They will lose either way and remain without credibility.
In truth, they don't care to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again. That isn't their purpose.

Newspapers lost their credibility decades ago. Like the Disney Discorporation trading on the Disney name and flaunting teenage skanks, the joy is getting away with the outrage. One of the favored tools of the Left has always been to appropriate an image or ideal and then ride the wave as long as it served a purpose. But there's no going back for another crest because there's no talent left to achieve or create. That's why Pixar makes the Disney movies. Because Disney is incapable of producing anything but rot.

And it's why newspapers will never again serve as a balance in a democracy. There's no talent or creativity. Just a will to dominate and subjugate. They will, of course, tell themselves that the subjugation part is wrong, but no freedom long survives such a crush.

An industry that found no particular fault in Stalin, championed Fidel Castro's fanatacism and bloody revolutions thoughout South America, and think of despots and terrorists are "Romantic Revolutionaries" are not enamored of freedom. Why would anyone in their right minds expect otherwise? Freedom is an anathema to those whose existence would be voted away in a free marketplace of ideas.

That's what cancelling your subscription to the Los Angeles Times or the New York Times meant. And having cast your vote for honesty and fairness, you're now Enemy Number One.

Don't expect to be given another chance to veto them. You won't hear of Obama's gaffes or be able to link to that list of pardons Bill Clinton dispensed before leaving office. And you'll no longer be able to fact check the casualty count of 800,000 dead in Rwanda. Anymore than you will be given a fair and accurate assessment of the world under Joe Biden's laughably clueless hand.

Their next step will be to remove collective memory. Once they have restocked the courts with their political allies, legal terrorism will remove any freedom on the Internet. And you won't be able to preserve history either. You can take that prediction to the bank.

Monday, October 27, 2008

No one wins in the long run when we don't have a free and fair press.

If you want to read the obituary for the mainstream media, it's here.

Columnist Michael Malone "Looks at Slanted Election Coverage and the Reasons Why"
Malone doesn't attempt to understand why. It's suicidal, yes. But, it's more than that. It's just plain visceral hatred because they blame everyone else for their demise.

The unfaithful readers. The Internet unleased by George H.W. Bush. Advertisers who are abandoning them. American citizens who can't stand them. Talk show listeners who prefer a dialogue on the issues than issues framed by the media.

They hate everyone. In their death throes, they would gladly, happily skewer an election and compromise democracy. An act that will forever label journalism and freedom of the press as liars and a lie.

And that is absolute proof that they think they are terminal. And why we should think the diagnosis is true. Few know the real state of the media like those who own it and control it.

We will blunder along without them. But we will be less grievous for the loss. For those of us who grew up loving newspapers, the death was not of late. The corpse has been cooling for a while. It's only now that the stench demands we bury it.

Newspaper Circulation Losses

The latest FAS-FAX figures from the Audit Circulation Bureau show another decline for U.S. newspapers. The reporting is for the six months ending September 2008. Overall losses were - 4.6% on daily circulation. Last year, the overall circulation decline ending September 2007 was -2.6%

The list of losses, as presented by Editor & Publisher
was by circulation.
USA TODAY -- 2,293,310 -- 0.01%
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL -- 2,011,999 -- 0.01%
NEW YORK TIMES -- 1,000,665 -- (-3.58%)
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- 739,147 -- (-5.20%)
DAILY NEWS, NEW YORK -- 632,595 -- (-7.16%)
NEW YORK POST -- 625,421 -- (-6.25%)
THE WASHINGTON POST -- 622,714 -- (-1.94%)
CHICAGO TRIBUNE -- 516,032 -- (-7.75%)
HOUSTON CHRONICLE -- 448,271 -- (-11.66%)
NEWSDAY -- 377,517 -- (-2.58%)
THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC -- 361,333 -- (-5.51%)
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE -- 339,430 -- (-7.07%)
THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS -- 338,933 -- (-9.28%)
BOSTON GLOBE -- 323,983 -- (-10.18%)
STAR TRIBUNE, MINNEAPOLIS -- 322,360 -- (-4.26%) 2
STAR-LEDGER, NEWARK, N.J. -- 316,280 -- (-10.40%)
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES -- 313,176 -- (-3.94%)
PLAIN DEALER, CLEVELAND -- 305,529 -- (-8.58%)
THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER -- 300,674 -- (-11.06%)
DETROIT FREE PRESS -- 298,243 -- (-6.84%)
THE OREGONIAN -- 283,321 -- (-8.45%) 4
THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION -- 274,999 -- (-13.62%) 1
SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE -- 269,819 -- (-3.00%)
ST. PETERSBURG (FLA.) TIMES -- 268,935 -- (-6.88%)
THE SACRAMENTO BEE -- 253,249 -- (-4.22%)
(At this point, they cut off one of the worst losses - by the Orange County Register. 3)

That same list rearranged by losses (high to low.)
There are five in double digits.
(The -15% loss at Orange County Register should be here at the top.)
HOUSTON CHRONICLE -- 448,271 -- (-11.66%)
THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER -- 300,674 -- (-11.06%)
STAR-LEDGER, NEWARK, N.J. -- 316,280 -- (-10.40%)
BOSTON GLOBE -- 323,983 -- (-10.18%)
THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS -- 338,933 -- (-9.28%)
PLAIN DEALER, CLEVELAND -- 305,529 -- (-8.58%)
THE OREGONIAN -- 283,321 -- (-8.45%)
CHICAGO TRIBUNE -- 516,032 -- (-7.75%)
DAILY NEWS, NEW YORK -- 632,595 -- (-7.16%)
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE -- 339,430 -- (-7.07%)
ST. PETERSBURG (FLA.) TIMES -- 268,935 -- (-6.88%)
DETROIT FREE PRESS -- 298,243 -- (-6.84%)
NEW YORK POST -- 625,421 -- (-6.25%)
THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC -- 361,333 -- (-5.51%)
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- 739,147 -- (-5.20%)
STAR TRIBUNE, MINNEAPOLIS -- 322,360 -- (-4.26%)
THE SACRAMENTO BEE -- 253,249 -- (-4.22%)
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES -- 313,176 -- (-3.94%)
NEW YORK TIMES -- 1,000,665 -- (-3.58%)
SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE -- 269,819 -- (-3.00%)
NEWSDAY -- 377,517 -- (-2.58%)
THE WASHINGTON POST -- 622,714 -- (-1.94%)
USA TODAY -- 2,293,310 -- 0.01%
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL -- 2,011,999 -- 0.01%

Not on their list but shown in an another E & P article.
--- (Arranged by losses, high to low.) Three are double digit.
The Daily News in Philly, daily circ down 13.2% to 97,694
Miami Herald daily circ was down 11.8% to 210,884
The Detroit News’ daily circ down 10.0% to 178,280 copies
Daily circ at the Denver Post down 6.5% to 210,585
Rocky Mountain News daily circ down 6.6% to 210,281
The Orlando Sentinel lost 3.3% of its daily circ to 206,363
The San Jose Mercury News was down 1.9% to 224,199

Losses reported elsewhere.
The Boston Herald circ down 9.9% to 167,506.
Orange County Register circ down 15% from a year earlier to 236,277. 3

WINNERS, so to speak, in circulation gains. From E & P article.
Notice that all are small newspapers.
WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL -- 97,012 -- 10.61%
TRENTON (N.J.) TIMES -- 53,303 -- 5.34%
DESERET NEWS, SALT LAKE CITY -- 71,133 -- 2.09%
ERIE (PA.) TIMES-NEWS -- 56,124 -- 1.81%
BATON ROUGE ADVOCATE (LA.) -- 92,030 -- 1.35%
HUNTSVILLE TIMES (ALA.) -- 50,998 -- 1.27%
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL -- 165,010 -- 0.85%

Top 25 Daily Circ Gainers can be found at Fitz & Jen. (E & P blog.)

The Chicago Tribune article on the latest figures was titled "New newspaper paid-circulation figures out -- thanks for reading this ... somewhere"
They reported their own circulation losses for the six month period ending September 2008 at -5.8% while they said the Chicago Sun-Times paid-circulation averages fell 3.9 percent weekdays, year-to-year.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported their average weekday circulation rose 0.3 percent to 313,174 copies.

THE FUTURE? The worst is yet to come: "Newspapers are currently more worried about even steeper, double-digit reductions in advertising revenue caused largely by the weak economy." And despite cheerful observations that "Declines are expected given the ongoing migration of readers to the Internet." by the Canadian Press, online readers are unpaid readers. And advertisers will not be paying large rates for unverifiable visitors to a newspaper web site.

From October 27, 2008 "Selling Papers" by James Erick Abels in Forbes.
"[Newspapers] draw most of their advertising from the local economy," says John Puchella, a newspaper analyst with Moody's. As recession sinks in across the country, many of the local businesses that constitute newspapers' biggest ad buyers could disappear, he says--and an industry can't rebound if its market ceases to exist.
Read the whole thing.

And, too, their regular readers may decide that in a tight economy they no longer want to subscribe.

Worse for newspapers, the capital to keep them afloat is no longer guaranteed. Those private equity firms that made billions on real estate speculation are no longer flush with money. They've propped up newspapers across the country in the last few years. And those foreign investors aren't there to prop up the equity funds anymore either.
1 To put it in perspective, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution latest circulation figure is 274,999. They lost 13.9% from the same period a year ago. This latest drop comes after a 8.5 percent decline in circulation in the previous six month period ending March 31, where circulation numbers were 326,907, and a 9.1 percent decline in the six month period before that. Since April, the AJC’s daily circulation figures have fallen by 51,908.

2 The Minneapolis Star-Tribune is in the midst of a restructuring. Its owner, private-equity owner Avista Capital Partners, has skipped debt payments as its health worsens. In October, the Star-Tribune skipped a $9 million payment on a $432 million debt. Avista Capital Partners, a New York private equity firm, paid $530 million for the Star Tribune in 2007. In July 2008, the paper failed to make a quarterly interest payment to holders of its lower-level debt - some $96 million owed to Avista, money Avista raised last year when it acquired the paper. In May 2008, Avista Capital Partners wrote down the value of its $100 million investment by 75 percent, reflecting the falling value of newspapers such as the Star Tribune.

LEGAL WOES: The Star-Tribune paid $3.8 million just in legal fees to the Pioneer Press. This was after settling a lawsuit that mandated that Par Ridder can't return to work (so ordered by a judge) at the Star Tribune or its parent company, Avista Capital Partners, until Sept. 18, 2008. The Star Tribune reported that Ridder resigned, and in return, the Pioneer Press agreed to drop a lawsuit against Ridder and the Minneapolis-based paper. See previous entry. Even the union wanted Ridder gone.

FINANCIAL CONNECTIONS: You could spend a day clicking though the holding companies and financial connections of Avista. The founder is also a partner in DJL Merchant Banking Partners, which is a private equity investment affiliate of Credit Suisse.

3 The Orange County Register is owned by Irvine-based Freedom Communications and is rumored to be for sale. The rumor monger? The Financial Times. link

Blackstone and Providence Equity, which own about 45 per cent of Freedom, are "eager to reduce their exposure." In October, the Register revealed that Freedom Communications is in "technical violation of the terms of its loan agreements but generates sufficient cash to meet payroll, pay its vendors and make its loan payments and other financial obligations." They were "in discussions with their lenders."

The lenders are fascinating. Blackstone bought out Sam Zell's national Equity Office Properties' portfolio buildings for $36 billion and quickly flipped nine of the San Francisco buildings to Morgan Stanley Real Estate for $2.6 billion. Sam Zell quickly bought the Tribune Co. (Chicago Tribune) and with it, the Tribune-owned Los Angeles Times, for $8.2 billion. He later sold Newsday to afford the debt payments on the $13 billion owed. And the LA Times building and the Tribune Tower are likely to go up for sale. That is, if anyone in this depressed real estate market wants them. To cut costs, the Zell's Tribune Co. dropped AP stories. And we all know what happened to Morgan Stanley. And it isn't over yet as investors continue to withdraw their money market accounts from the firm.

Blackstone isn't doing well either. Their shares have collapsed as "Over the past year, the stock price has plunged from $29.38 to a recent low of $6.88." One of it's big investors? AIG and you don't even want to know how badly they are doing even with the government bailout.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

When the going gets tough, someone sues

This unusually candid story from the San Diego Union-Tribune about the economic decline of newspapers gives a more realistic view of the state of the industry than any take by Editor & Publisher.
Things haven't gone smoothly in Minneapolis, either. In May, the Star Tribune reported that Avista had written down $75 million of the $100 million it invested in the purchase, reflecting the estimated decline in the paper's value.
Then in June, the company skipped a payment to secondary debt holders as it sought a restructuring plan with the senior creditors who hold the largest chunk of the debt. The company said it had enough money to make the payment, but chose not to as it worked to restructure the debt while also cutting costs and trying to boost revenue.

There's worse.
  • Family-owned Landmark Communications put itself up for sale at the start of the year and succeeded in selling the Weather Channel to NBC Universal, but it has yet to announce a buyer for its nine daily newspapers.

  • Investors have fled publicly traded newspaper companies in the past year, driving down the stock price of McClatchy about 80 percent, Gannett about 60 percent and The New York Times Co. about 20 percent.

  • Standard and Poor's reported in June that the group, Philadelphia Media Holdings, had missed a payment on secondary loans and was in talks with senior creditors for relief. The group reportedly fell below the debt-to-cash-flow ratio required by its senior lenders, who then blocked a payment to a secondary group of lenders.
Philadelphia Media Holdings bought the Philadelphia newspapers dumped by McClatchy after they bailed out bought Knight Ridder.

Copley is trying to sell the San Diego Union-Tribune. Without much success.
Oh, and Sam Zell is being sued by present and former employees in a class action lawsuit in which they call the sale to Zell "a scam." That sale has mired the company in $13 billion of debt. The litigants are worried about their pension plans that are saddled with Tribune stock.

From Fortune magazine: "For Zell, more Tribune hell" Subhead: A suit filed by his own employees re-opens the question of how the billionaire bought so much for so little
In a more interesting vein, the suit also alleges that the Tribune's board was seduced into approving the deal in April 2007 by the allure of $25 million in incentive payments to top management and that it therefore overlooked more attractive alternatives and the fact that Zell's plan would foreseeably gut employees' pension benefits.
The plaintiffs are Dan Neil, a Pulitzer-prize winning auto critic who is still employed at the Times, while former writers Corie Brown (a food-and-wine critic), Henry Weinstein (legal affairs), Walter Roche, Jr. (a Baltimore Sun as well as L.A. Times veteran), Myron Levin (consumer affairs), and Jack Nelson (once a Pulitzer-prize winning D.C. bureau chief) are the other proposed class representatives.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


May 2008 - A prominent liberal talk show host in San Francisco for two decades who denounced President Bush and the war in Iraq and was known for hosting "God Talk," a Sunday morning program on the problems with slandering religion will be going to a jail nearby sometime soon.

Bernie Ward pleaded guilty to a charge of distributing child porn. The plea agreement he signed, quoted in court, contained an admission that he had sent between 15 and 150 pornographic images via e-mail to various people. He was indicted by a grand jury in December and was fired Dec. 31.

A former Catholic priest, Ward initially pleaded not guilty and said he had downloaded a few pornographic images over several weeks as research for a book on hypocrisy among Americans who preach morality in public. Police in Oakdale released transcripts in February of a series of online sex chats between Ward and a dominatrix known online as "Sexfairy" in December 2004 and January 2005. The transcripts quote Ward fantasizing about naked children, most often his own, with no apparent reference to any subject he was researching. Police said he had sent photos to the woman that showed children engaged in sexual activity. The woman turned him in.
Prosecutors are asking for nine years in prison.

Talk about hypocrisy. After the priesthood, Ward worked as a schoolteacher, served as legislative assistant for then-Rep. Barbara Boxer for three years, and was hired by KGO in 1985. As an investigative reporter, he won a national award for a series of stories in the mid-1990s, in partnership with the San Francisco Examiner, that exposed financial and sexual improprieties in the San Francisco Archdiocese.

In December when Bernie pleaded not guilty, his lawyer said, "It's really tragic that the government has decided to prosecute him for a judgment he made as a journalist and to treat him as a child pornographer when he is not." Yeah.

Graphic Police report (from the Smoking Gun). The filthy man speculated about his own children, both male and female, and their friends.

Bernie's unsealed indictment here. As someone commented when Ward was indicted, "There is a God."

Bernie will be sentenced August 28.
ABC7 reported (May 8, 2008) that complaints about Ward date back to his time in as a priest.
It's the same old story -- Catholic priest gets in trouble for complaints of sexual activity with minors. Only this time, it's Bernie Ward.

Ward often discussed his time as a Catholic priest during his weeknight KGO Radio show and his Sunday morning program, "God Talk." However, he never told the complete story of what happened when he was Father Bernie.
The I-Team has been able to confirm two sexual misconduct complaints against Ward when he was a priest. [Detailed at the story.]

Ward's guilty plea brings some comfort to one of his victims. She says it's important for people to know that someone who criticized the Catholic church for so long on the radio had his own complaints of misconduct when he was a priest.

UPDATED September 2 - Ward was sentenced to 7 years in prison. (It's federal sentencing, so no parole.) In addition to being a Catholic priest who was the subject of two sexual misconduct complaints, Ward was a high school teacher and served as legislative assistant for then-Rep. Barbara Boxer for three years.
Ironically, Ward received the Scripps Howard Award for journalism as a result of his ten-part series, Heaven Help Us, which explored allegations of financial and sexual misconduct of the Catholic Church in San Francisco.
Ward will be on lifetime supervision after his release.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Tribune Woes

In an August 14th article in the Wall Street Journal, on the Tribune Co. shows they're still deeply troubled. They took a $3.8 BILLION accounting charge in the second quarter.
Gannett Co., New York Times Co. and other publishers have taken similar charges, an acknowledgment that newspaper assets are worth less than the value shown on the companies' books.

In Tribune's case, the charge shows the company overpaid in the $8.3 billion deal in 2000 that united Times Mirror Co.'s Los Angeles Times, Newsday and other papers with Tribune's Chicago Tribune and TV stations. More than $3 billion of the second-quarter charge was to lower the value of that merger.
Tribune remains heavily in debt. The company still owes nearly $600 million by June, but the pending auction of the Chicago Cubs baseball team and related assets is expected to bring roughly $1 billion.

Tribune went private in December with the a leveraged buyout engineered by real estate magnate Sam Zell. But the debt-heavy company continues to disclose its results, because some of its bonds continue to trade publicly.

Gannett recorded a $2.8 billion charge to write down goodwill and impaired assets in the latest quarter, and E.W Scripps took a $779 million goodwill hit. (Goodwill = companies list on their books not just the value of their tangible assets, such as buildings or printing presses, but also intangible factors such as a strong brand name.If circumstances change enough to reduce the value of the goodwill on its books,a corporation is obliged to take a non-cash charge to reflect the lower value. )

And, yes, the Tribune has picked two brokers to sell their buildings that include Times Mirror Square and the Tribune Tower in Chicago.

Prices for the properties have not been set, but the Times headquarters was valued at about $150 million and Tribune Tower might garner about $230 million, according to industry trade publication Real Estate Alert. Money raised by any deal is expected to be used to pay down debt.

And it's likely to get worse. Shares of nearly all publicly traded newspaper companies have lost as much as 80% of their value in the last year -- but they haven't hit bottom yet, says a blistering report on the sector released Monday by Morningstar.The Chicago-based independent research firm calls newspapers "the market's most overvalued stocks.

Morningstar singled out five newspaper stocks that it says are trading at "significant premiums" to its estimates of their fair value.

McClatchy Co. fair value estimate is $1.95. Traded at $4.26.
Gannett Co. (USA Today) fair value estimate is $1.61 a share. Traded at $19.99.
Lee Enterprises fair value estimate is $1.63 a share. Traded at $3.56.
New York Times fair value estimate is $1.27. Traded at $13.94.
GateHouse Media Inc. was, they said, essentially worthless. Traded at 69 cents.

Who would buy them? This is a good clue.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Los Angeles Times building

Rumors abounded in the 1990s that the Los Angeles Times was doing so poorly that they were considering selling the Los Angeles Times building. Apparently, it might come to pass.
The announcement this week that Tribune Co., which owns The Times, is considering selling the paper's downtown offices is the latest sign of a decades-long corporate disappearance from the city center.

Arco, Standard Oil, First Interstate Bank and many other big corporations that once called downtown home are long gone.
The headquarters of Barker Bros., Westinghouse, Standard Oil and Nabisco have been converted to condos.

Google map street view of the intersection and the building. Those trees across the intersection surround Los Angeles City Hall. What you don't see around City Hall the winos and drunks sprawled on the grass. The street view of the City Hall and surrounds shows the ugliness they don't even try to conceal.

Face-on of the Los Angeles Times building. That's the one that won the "Ugliest Building" contest in 1970s when it was added by architect William L. Pereira in the 1970s. Times Mirror Square came in second.

Cash from the Newsday sale (sold to Comcast for $650 million) and from the expected sale of the Cubs, Tribune should be able to meet its debt obligations for this year.

AP (June 29) Newspapers, reeling from slumping ads, slash jobs

Editor & Publisher **(July 3) Tribune Gets $300 Million Cash Infusion
Debt-strapped Tribune Co. said Thursday it had signed a $300 million asset-backed commercial paper facility with Barclays Bank PLC, allowing it to raise cash through its outstanding trade receivables.Tribune said it initially borrowed $225 million under the facility, which was used to repay the company's term loan X.
** Editor & Publisher (self-described as "America's Oldest Journal Covering the Newspaper Industry" is Dutch-owned.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

BOLLY Hollywood

Musicals might be making a comeback.

Earlier this year, the Indian company, Tata Motors Ltd., agreed to buy Britain's Jaguar and Land Rover brands from Ford Motor Co. for $2.3 billion. Now, Dreamworks' producer Steven Spielberg and the rest might be up for sale, much like the studio was a few years ago.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Mumbai-based Reliance ADA Group would provide Mr. Spielberg and company with $500 million to $600 million in equity. Reliance will get a large stake in the new company. They will, likely, get a lot of grief as well, although the Wall Street Journal refrains from saying so.

Dreamworks was formed in 1994 with a great deal of fanfare. Ten years later DreamWorks spun off the animation arm that Mr. Katzenberg was running. DreamWorks Animation SKG, which also distributes its films through Paramount in a deal that runs for several more years, is the creator of hits like "Shrek" and "Kung Fu Panda." Dreamworks studios, however, never lived up to their publicists' dream. A year later, in 2005 the company was bought up by Viacom, owner of CBS.

Viacom owns Paramount Studios (that has a long and interesting ownership history) but the acquisition was something of a dud with no major successes to brag about and a lot of Dreamwork egos, not to mention, unGodly high price tags for mediocre movies. Dreamworks appears to spend money like a dot.bomb business.

As for the Bolly Hollywood adventure, the new (unnamed company) would likely seek another $500 million or so in debt financing elsewhere to give its new venture enough money to make a slate of about six films a year.
Reliance Big Entertainment, already announced a slate of investments in Hollywood projects last month at the Cannes Film Festival. Those include providing financing to a handful of Hollywood top talent with production houses, like Jim Carrey, George Clooney, Tom Hanks and Brad Pitt. The company also said then it would spend more than $1 billion over the next 18 months building its entertainment empire in India and abroad.
Bottom line: a "dearth of Wall Street financing has opened up the door to foreign investors."
Spielberg is expected to be joined in the venture by current DreamWorks Chief Executive Stacey Snider, who has become a key ally and collaborator since joining Mr. Spielberg in 2006. The former head of Universal Pictures, Ms. Snider would give Reliance a tested Hollywood manager for its biggest foray into the global movie business.
Considering the fact that DreamWorks wasn't exactly a financial bonanza, is this a good thing?

Spielberg's other financial partnership was decidedly odd.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


How come news like this never makes national headlines?

When he was expelled from the House in March 2008, it was the first time in 128 years that the NC General Assembly had expelled one of their own. North Carolina state Rep. Thomas Wright has another first to his name. He is the first member of the North Carolina House to face jail time since 1880.

The North Carolina General Assembly voted overwhelmingly (109 to 5) to expel Rep. Thomas Wright. House members made the historic decision during a special session after hearing a detailed report from a special House Ethics Committee which investigated charges that Wright did not report over $180,000 in campaign contributions, diverted approximately $19,000 in contributions and loans to a nonprofit organization into personal accounts, and coaxed a state official into providing Wright with a fraudulent letter which was used to secured a $150,000 bank loan.

A jury convicted Wright of three felony fraud counts in a property scam.
The jury deliberated a little more than six hours over two days before announcing at midday that Wright had mishandled $7,400 in charitable contributions and fraudulently obtained a $150,000 bank loan. He was acquitted on a charge involving a $1,500 donation that his health-care foundation received from AT&T Corp.

Jurors agreed with prosecutors that Wright illegally pocketed donations from AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals and Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. that were meant for his foundation, but instead ended up in his personal bank account.

The jury also said that Wright used a bogus letter from a state official to take out a loan to build health-care offices and a museum remembering Wilmington’s 1898 race riots.
He was sentenced to six to eight years in prison.

Despite a fraud conviction , Wright will stay on the Democratic primary ballot, which already has been printed, officials say.

Wright, a Wilmington Democrat, is the fourth House member to be convicted of or to plead guilty to a crime in state or federal court since 2006, a roster that includes former House Speaker Jim Black, (Democrat) former N.C. Reps. Michael Decker (Republican) and Paul Miller (Democrat.) The Rocky Mountain Telegram editorialized that North Carolina has become one of the most scandal-ridden states in the union through the misdeeds of these lawmakers.

Black was sentenced to 63 months in prison for corruption. The most powerful elected official in North Carolina history to be convicted of public corruption, Black served a record-tying four terms as speaker.

Black's troubles began when records showed that he had created a $48,000 state job for former Rep. Michael Decker, a Forsyth County Republican. Just before the start of the 2003 session, Decker switched parties and supported Black for speaker, a move that allowed him to remain in power. Decker cut a deal with federal authorities to plead guilty to a conspiracy charge for accepting a $50,000 bribe from Black in exchange for backing him for speaker. Decker was sentenced to four years in prison.

Miller sent doctored checks to the U.S. Department of Education to make it appear that he had paid off more than $20,000 in student loan debt. He had borrowed $13,750 in federally insured student loans in 1980. He had only paid back $1,700, but he claimed that he had paid the debt in full in 1992 and enclosed copies of five canceled checks from 1992 totaling $20,500.

The education department researched the checks and found that instead of being written for $4,100 each as Miller claimed, they had been written for $100 each. He was sentenced to probation.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Journalism out of touch

Reuters headlines the story: "More Americans turning to Web for news" to report that.
Nearly 70 percent of Americans believe traditional journalism is out of touch, and nearly half are turning to the Internet to get their news, according to a new survey.

While most people think journalism is important to the quality of life, 64 percent are dissatisfied with the quality of journalism in their communities, a We Media/Zogby Interactive online poll showed.

McClatchy Q4 $1.8 Billion Loss

McClatchy is reporting a Q4 $1.4 Billion Loss. What a surprise. It's an "impairment charge" on the value of their newspapers. Specifically, in the value of those papers acquired from Knight Ridder. McClatchy has written off half the value of the $4.4 billion blockbuster purchase of Knight Ridder in the summer of 2006.

McClatchy stock has lost more than half its value since the Knight Ridder deal.

The sale of Knight Ridder was always an odd deal.

Newsday cuts jobs (again)

Newsday will be cutting about 120 jobs that includes 25 in the newsroom - on top of 13 vacant positions that have not been filled - pressroom reduction of 24 union positions and 5 drivers in the transportation bargaining unit.

Dennis Grabhorn, president Local 406 of the Graphic Communications Conference/International Brotherhood of Teamsters, didn't agree with the cuts or the newspaper's lack of growth.
"I just don't understand how a newspaper being the only daily newspaper on an island with more than 3 million people can have a circulation of less than 400,000 readers," Grabhorn later added. "I find that hard to accept. I don't understand why Newsday cannot sell on this island and that just tells me that Newsday is not putting effort into growing circulation."
It's because those drivers quit backing up to dumpsters to deliver papers, Dennis. We can't be certain that Newsday even has 400,000 readers. With newspapers allowed to claim subscription credit for deeply-discounted papers or giveaways to hotels and coffee shops, it's hard to say how many people pay to read Newsday. Or even browse the paper, let alone let it into their homes.

There's a reason for that, too. The newspaper slavishly follows the union take on politics, in their coverage and in their editorials, which hardly makes them unique reading. The circulation fraud stories, however, were fascinating.

Newsday Circulation Fraud Pt IV
Circulation Fraud
Newsday Continues to Slide
Newsday Publisher arrested for child porn
Newsday Fraud Arrests
Newsday Circulation woes tip of iceberg
Newspaper circulation scandals continue
Newsday Pt 5
Newsday circulation scandal escalating
The numbers game
Newspaper circulation scandal grows
Just another partisan crowd of journalists)
Circulation figures, excuse me, fraud

Thursday, February 28, 2008

In the shadow of the dead

You might have missed this. In fact, you might have missed the death of 800,000 people, the rape of hundreds of thousands of women and girls, the 99 days of killing.
A Belgian journalist jailed for inciting Rwanda's 1994 genocide was handed over on Thursday to police from Italy, where he will serve the rest of his sentence.

Georges Ruggiu, 50, is the only non-Rwandan convicted by an international court in Tanzania that is trying the architects of the slaughter. It jailed him for 12 years in June 2000.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) said the transfer followed an agreement between the United Nations and the Italian government, and a recent ruling by a Rome court that allowed ICTR sentences to be enforced in Italy.

Ruggiu, a former school teacher whose father was Italian, was a presenter on Rwanda's Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) during the genocide and an infamous voice behind what became known as "hate radio".

As soldiers and ethnic Hutu militias butchered some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 100 days of bloodshed, he and others at the station exhorted the killers to greater efforts.

He fled Rwanda afterwards but was arrested in Mombasa, Kenya, in July 1997 and transferred to the ICTR in northern Tanzania.

He pleaded guilty to charges of direct and public incitement to commit genocide and crimes against humanity, and later testified against his former boss and others at RTLM. He also converted to Islam while behind bars.

In was not immediately clear where in Italy Ruggiu would serve out the rest of his jail time. In its sentencing, the ICTR said his time in custody since his arrest should be taken into account, meaning he could be eligible for release in mid-2009.
Georges Ruggiu has a Wikipedia entry.

Rwanda formally protested the lenient sentence, a story that when the BBC reported it, they put "lenient" in quotation marks. Ruggiu will likely be released next year.

A Voice of America story when he pleaded guilty gives more background on him. So does this story on RTLM propaganda. Ruggiu likened the killing to the French Revolution.
On 30 June, Georges Ruggiu, referring to the 'furious population', stated: 'Has Robespierre not done exactly the same in France?' (Chrétien 1995: 204).
It isn't likely that anyone in Rwanda will be able to protest moving Ruggiu to Italy. The formal sentencing includes this little proviso.
RULE that imprisonment shall be served in a State designated by the President of the Tribunal, in consultation with the Trial Chamber, and the said designation shall be conveyed to the Government of Rwanda and the designated State by the Registry;
The United Nations International Crime Tribunals are more than a disgrace. They deliberately work to mask the role that Belgium and France played in the tragedy.
Among the reasons why the ICTR has been criticized as ineffective is the fact that so far only 14 cases have been ended with a final verdict, despite the fact that the Tribunal has been working for almost a decade and the 872 employees have had a budget of almost 180 m US$ at their disposal for the years 2002 to 2003.
Also see Rwanda Initiative , a self-congratulating symposium crippled by a "tight timeline" that seems obscene considering they were talking about 800,000 people who died in nine-nine days. The role of the media - always referred to a "hate media" during the genocide "demonstrated how the power of the media could be used to destroy." Only lightly skimmed over was the role of international media that not only evacuated at the first sign of violence, but who have ignored the massive killing every since in a reprise of their role in Cambodia under Pol Pot.

Ruggiu is the only European convicted. He was convicted of direct and public incitement to commit genocide for his broadcasts. He was a journalist and producer with the “Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines S.A. (RTLM) and worked in Kigali. Founded in 1993, the RTLM broadcast the ideology and the objectives of extremist Hutus throughout Rwanda until the end of July 1994.Georges Ruggiu worked for the RTLM between January and July 1994. He is white.

RTLM was founded in 1993 by two wealthy Rwandan businessmen and with the aid of the German Seidel Foundation. 1 Radio equipment was supplied through Bavaria. In 2002, the U.S. State Department offered a $5 million reward for the capture of former RTLM President Félicien Kabuga. He is believed to be in Kenya.

During the killing months, Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire called for the radio to be jammed, an action opposed by the French and the American governments. That would be Bill Clinton, in case the media fails to tell you that salient fact.

1 Scherrer, Christian P., Genocide and Crisis in Central Africa: Conflict Roots, Mass Violence, and Regional War, p 130 Footnote 10.

Previous stories on Rwanda. Here Here RTLM was broadcast in French.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Better off in Cuba

A recent mayor of Oakland is now the Attorney General for the state of Calfiornia.

"Homicide Rate Overwhelming Oakland Police"
There have been 21 homocides in Oakland since the start of the year. The police announced a gun buy-back program and the line stretched for several blocks. Police ran out of money and had to hand out IOUs. Now the cash-strapped department is reportedly on the hook for $170,000.

The latest slaying comes after a weekend that saw six people killed in 10 shooting incidents and a popular college instructor killed at his Oakland Hills home. [That killing was not random but may be due to the mentoring relationship between the killer and the instructor.] There's a map of homocides in 2007-2008.

State Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, who was carjacked at gunpoint in December was the first to hand in his handgun. "He gave police the handgun he bought 15 years ago after receiving death threats during his fight to ban assault weapons." Perata is under investigation by the FBI. He's likely to be the next mayor of Oakland. The buy-back was political theatre at best. Even the police chief said that gun buy-backs don't have much effect on crime.

It doesn't say if he took the $250 per gun given out by police in the three-gun per person buy-back. Enterprising gun dealers from as far as Reno, apparently, accepted the money - for guns still bearing a $35 price tag, according to the story. That's just kind of typical of the type of ill-considered policies that abound in Oakland.

The current mayor of Oakland is Ron Dellums. He's described as "the first openly socialist Congressman since World War II" in a Wikipedia entry. He was elected twelve times as U.S. Congressman for the Oakland-Berkeley district.

We better hope that Ron doesn't do for other American cities what he has helped happen to Oakland under his careful watch in Congress and before, and since. He was named national chair of Hillary Clinton's Urban Policy Committee in 2004.

See Special election musical chairs

Education in Oakland would be a joke if it was not so tragic.The state took over Oakland public schools in 2003 and bailed out the district to the tune of $100 million. (A fact not mentioned in the Oakland Wikipedia entry.) To this date, the board still don't have full control. (See Teachers and Trash Education on the Oakland school board antics.) Only 20 percent of students performed at least "proficient" on the English section of a 2005 STAR test for a population that isn't English deficient.

See on the district performance. For which taxpayers pay $9,019 per pupil.

Ghetto doesn't begin to describe Oakland, California. It's an internment camp where even basic education is denied.

People in Oakland would probably be better off in Cuba, a country Dellums open admires and visits often.

There's no end to how many opportunities there are to exploit the vulnerable in Oakland.

There's a new "popular new hair salon" in Oakland called the NitPixie. They specialize in head lice removal.
Clients undergo three, hourlong treatments. A family of three, such as the Whitneys, would rack up a bill of at least $900.
The cost is a concern to a health officials.
"Lice-removal businesses might give families peace of mind, and that's great for those who can afford the service, said Julia Graham Lear, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Health and Health Care in Schools. But it probably isn't necessary, she said.

"[Lice] is disgusting, but it can be treated simply and relatively inexpensively," Lear said. "For anyone to spend that kind of money because they think that's what they need to do to be a good parent — that's what I worry about."
We all ought to worry.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Another Harvard Grad in the Slammer

The Financial Times remarked on the crackdown of insider trading that resulted in the sentencing of Goldman Sachs & Co. associate Eugene Plotkin, another Goldman Sachs employe, a Merrill Lynch analyst, a federal grand juror, and two employees of a printing firm in Wisconsin who who furnished pre-publication copies of Business Week’s “Inside Wall Street.

FT says that while certain colourful schemes such as the one hatched by Mr Plotkin were fairly easy for the government to spot, insider trades by sophisticated Wall Street groups such as hedge funds remained much harder to uncover.

Eugene Plotkin, 28, a former associate at Goldman Sachs & Co., was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison last week after his August 2007 plea of guilty to a series of insider trading schemes that netted more than $6.7 million in illegal gains that benefited Plotkin and five other conspirators, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Plotkin was also fined $10,000 and ordered to forfeit the proceeds from the schemes.
Associated with him in the network were David Pajcin, another Goldman Sachs employee; Stanislav Shpigelman, a Merrill Lynch analyst; Jason Smith, a federal grand juror in New Jersey who provided information about a Bristol-Myers Squibb investigation; Nickolaus Shuster and Juan Renteria, two employees of a Wisconsin printer who furnished pre-publication copies of Business Week’s “Inside Wall Street” column, according to Southern District U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia.

Shpigelman was sentenced to 37 months and Smith was sentenced to 33 months in prison. Shuster, Renteria and Pajcin are awaiting sentencing. Paigin will be sentenced Jan 18. Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch, both headquartered in Lower Manhattan, were not charged in the case.

FT: Plotkin was a one-time competitive ballroom dancer. And Harvard graduate. The New Jersey postal working serving as a grand juror supplied tips about a government investigation into Bristol-Myers Squibb, the drugs company. Prosecutors said. Mr Plotkin also tried to enlist strippers to glean information from investment bankers about pending merger deals.

The scheme, hatched in a Russian day spa, was said by the government to include illegal trades on pending deals, including Adidas's acquisition of Reebok International in 2006.

Fun reading: A Merrill Lynch Analyst, A Postal Worker, Business Week Employees and An Exotic Dancer - That Equals Nearly Five Years by Chuck Gallagher Business Ethics Speaker.

Dealbreaker calls it the "best insider trading scandal of 2006." "We call it the best not because it worked that well—that might be interpreted as encouraging effective wrong-doing—but because it involved steam rooms in Russian bath houses, central European dead drop grandmothers, strippers and the classic “let’s steal Business Week” move. It’s like Wall Street meets Eastern Promises."

From the Los Angeles Times: Other insider trading convictions include: An ex-Morgan Stanley vice president and her husband, a former ING Groep analyst, were sentenced to 18 months in prison for trading on confidential news. Employees from Bear Stearns Cos. and Credit Suisse Group have been convicted or accused of trading on inside information.