Wednesday, May 28, 2014

In Which (The Outrageously Ironic) Sarah Palin Is Called Out Again

Sarah Palin, the former half-term Alaska Governor, vice presidential candidate, presidential wannabe, conservative heart throb and coiner of the term "death panels," has never been good at irony. 

Come to think of it, in the six years since she burst on the national scene, she has repeatedly proven herself to be good at nothing except deception and obfuscation, as well as a pitch-perfect ability to say the wrong thing at the right time, such as her outrageous comments in the wake of the 2011 assassination attempt that nearly took the life of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, killed six people and injured 13 others.  Palin can no longer see Russia from her kitchen window, to paraphrase one of her legendary misstatements, and today lives in a $1.7 million Scottsdale, Arizona, home, although still claiming to be an Alaska resident.
While Palin's star has faded for all but a hard-core few conservatives for whom her absence of credibility and competence were never a concern, she continues to say outrageous things, most recently in asserting that likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton must release her medical records because, by implication, this would prove she is unsuitable for office because she is brain damaged as a result of a fall in December 2012 that resulted in a concussion.

"America, you deserve fair and consistent coverage of relevant issues before deciding a Presidential/Vice Presidential ticket, so have faith the agenda-less media will refuse to push whispers and wildly inaccurate information about a partisan politician’s body part," Palin said in a statement. "Goodness, no one credible would print lies, continually harass a candidate's doctor [and] disrupt local hospital staff . . . "


How outrageously ironic.
Palin, in calling for Clinton to release her medical records, which she will be obligated to do if she is indeed the nominee, adds yet another bright star to her constellation of hypocrisy.  
This is because Palin herself repeatedly promised during the 2008 presidential campaign to release her medical records as had Barack Obama and Joe Biden. When running mate John McCain finally did so late in the evening of  November 3, the day before Election Day, there was a page-and-a-half long letter -- as opposed to medical records -- annexed to McCain's records signed by her personal physician stating that she was in good health and had had an uneventful pregnancy.

In mentioning the pregnancy, the letter alluded to one of the great mysteries -- or yucky non-stories, if that is your view -- of the 2008 campaign that Palin references in her statement on Clinton's: Did she put over an enormous hoax on the American public in claiming she was pregnant with and gave birth to Trig Paxson Van Palin on April 18, 2008? 

The question, in my view and that of a small handful of investigative journalists with long attention spans, was valid because there was no proof
and there still is none today that Palin is Trig's biological mother.
And so, one good turn deserving another (thank you, Ms. Palin) below is an update of my own investigation.

Six Years On: Why The Palin Birth Hoax Story Still Shouldn't Go Away


(Originally published in April 2011.  Last updated in June 2014.)  
Rumors, innuendo and inconclusive photographs do not a true story make, but the fact of the matter is that six-plus years after the birth of Trig Paxson Van Palin, there is no proof that Sarah Palin is his biological mother and evidence he may be her grandson.

If you believe that I -- or anyone else -- has no business pursuing the question of whether John McCain's 2008 running mate put over an enormous hoax on the American public because the whole idea is so . . . well, yucky, then you need read no further. Besides which, a kid with disabilities having a home with a family that has plenty of dough is enough for many people who are averse to questioning Palin's serial evasions.

But if you, like me, remain curious about the evasions concerning her alleged pregnancy and Trig's birth, as well as her unwillingness to provide any proof to tamp down rumors that she faked the birth of the Down syndrome child
, then stick around.  Palin still will not even release a copy of Trig's birth certificate although she hectored Barack Obama to release his.

This story deserves to have legs because the former half-term governor turned author and reality show princess and most recently Tea Party carnival sideshow freak not only has not gone away.
She continues to inject herself into national politics, having campaigned early on for the 2012 Republican president nomination until even she realized that her brand was tarnished despite a small but hard-core conservative constituency that continues to cling to her every statement as if they were Biblical missives. 
These statements have included appallingly outrageous and tone deaf comments in the wake of the 2011 assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, and attacks on Hillary Rodham Clinton, the likely 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, whom she infers is brain damaged and should release her medical records.  And come to think of it, what has Palin accomplished over the last decade beyond running her mouth?

The events leading up to and after Trig's alleged birth -- and, yes, it is alleged -- on April 18, 2008 are copiously documented in an academic paper and lengthy commentary by Bradford W. Scharlott, a former reporter and professor at Northern Kentucky University who believes there may have been a conspiracy hoax and like me is deeply disturbed about the disinterest of a mainstream media that at the same time was unable leave alone far-fetched Obama birther conspiracy theories.
* * * * *
In late February 2008, Palin's bodyguard, Alaska State Trooper Gary Wheeler, had accompanied her to Washington, D.C. for a Republican Governors Association conference where she met McCain and his campaign manager Rick Davis, who was to be in charge of the vice-presidential nomination selection process. Palin had been mentioned as a potential vice presidential choice for the eventual nominee, albeit a long-shot candidate, for several months in conservative publications.
Wheeler recalls that when Palin changed into jeans upon her arrival in the capital, there was no apparent sign that she was pregnant.

On March 5, 2008, McCain all but clinched the Republican nomination.

On March 6, the Anchorage Daily News reported that Palin had announced she was expecting her fifth child and already was seven months along. "That the pregnancy is so advanced astonished all who heard the news," wrote reporter Wesley Loy. "The governor . . . simply does not look pregnant. Even close members of her staff said they only learned this week their boss was expecting."

On April 15, Palin and her husband Todd flew to Dallas where she was to give the keynote speech at a Republican governor's conference on energy.  Trooper Wheeler, a 26-year veteran who had provided security for several other Alaska governors, was told at the last minute that he was not needed. He says that no explanation was given, and the Palins rejected his offer to arrange for a security detail to meet them in Texas.

On April 17, the Palins cut out early from the governor's conference after Palin gave the keynote speech. Shortly after the speech, Todd Palin emailed friends, writing that her speech "kicked ass," but said nothing about the status of her pregnancy or hurriedly arranged return trip. Meanwhile, Palin herself also did not allude to being in labor in a flurry of emails, although she later stated publicly that she was "overwhelmed" with "desperation" about her condition. 
In Going Rogue, a 2009 bestselling autobiography chockablock with lies and fabrications, Palin claimed she had been awakened shortly before 4 a.m. on the morning of the speech by a strange sensation in her lower belly.  She wrote that she was leaking amniotic fluid and claimed she called her personal physician, Dr. Cathy Baldwin-Johnson, who apparently did not insist that she seek immediate medical intention.
After laying over in Seattle, the Palins landed in Anchorage about 10:30 p.m. local time and drove to the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center in Palmer, which is close to the Palin's home in Wasilla. The trip took a total of 10 hours. Airline personnel on the return flight said they did not notice that Palin was pregnant, let alone was showing signs that she might be about to give birth.

Meanwhile, investigative author Geoffrey Dunn writes in The Lies of Sarah Palin: The Untold Story Behind Her Relentless Quest for Power, that a woman said to be a close friend of the then-governor also expressed skepticism.

He writes that the friend told him
that "Palin did not look like she was pregnant. Ever. Even when she had the bulging belly, I never felt that the rest of her body, her face especially, looked like she was pregnant." When the woman asked Palin point-blank if she was certain the baby was hers, she says that Palin said, "No. I don't know what to believe."
According to a later story in the Anchorage Daily News, Palin gave birth at 6:30 a.m. on April 18 after Cathy Baldwin-Johnson induced labor. 
This means that if Palin's water had broken prior to her giving the keynote speech, she chose to not go check herself into any of the five world-class Dallas hospitals with neo-natal intensive-care units or similarly equipped Seattle hospitals, and waited some 20 hours before going to a hospital that did not have a neo-natal ICU after having passed several large Alaska hospitals with such units despite her history of miscarriages (two), to give birth to a one-month premature baby with Down syndrome and, as it later turned out, a heart condition.

Later that morning, a crew from KTUU-TV in Anchorage showed up at Mat-Su in pursuit of a tip that Palin had given birth. The crew taped Chuck and Sallie Health, Palin's parents, in a hallway holding an infant that Chuck Health said was their new grandchild, Trig. Sarah Palin did not appear. The source of the tip is believed to be KTUU reporter Bill McAllister, who became Palin's director of communications three months later.
It was obvious to a number of people who saw the baby that day that it was not a newborn preemie. Some of them wrote that at the Anchorage Daily News web site. The comments were quickly taken down, but the Palins realized that for the next month or two, they needed a younger stand-in for Trig for photo ops they would orchestrate.
The identity of the stand-in baby may never be known, but Scharlott has done a detailed analyses of screenshots of the baby showed off at Mat-Su and the baby that Palin later appeared with at the Republican National Convention.  He concludes that they are not the same child because of differences in the ears and because the baby in the hospital lacked characteristics of a newborn preemie such as a plethoric (red-faced) complexion.
A press release issued by the governor's office announced the birth of the Palins' "fifth child this morning. The Palins were thankful that the Governor's labor began yesterday while she was in Texas . . . but let up enough for her to travel on Alaska Airlines in time to deliver her second son . . . "  The press release did not say where the birth took place, Mat-Su did not list Trig among the babies born there that day, nor has any hospital official ever confirmed that Trig was born there, let alone when, or said anything publicly about the birth. (A writer for Slate reported in late April 2011 that a clerk in Mat-Su's family birthing center told him that Trig was born there.  Birth certificates are not public records in Alaska.)

Baldwin-Johnson has never publicly said a word about the birth.


Later that day, KTUU newscaster Lori Tipton reported that "An unnamed source that is close to the family said that early testing revealed Trig Palin has Down syndrome." The source is again believed to be McAllister.

Although preemies typically need to stay in neo-natal ICUs for days or weeks, on April 21, Palin returned to work and held a press conference with Trig at hand. When a reporter asked if her water had broken in Texas, she balked at the question but later indicated that it had.

In a surprise announcement on August 28, McCain announced that he had selected Palin as his running mate. 
Considering that Palin would be a heartbeat away from the presidency if McCain defeated Obama, the decision to choose a virtual unknown whose popularity already had tanked in Alaska because of a reputation for being a power abusing kook and liar has to rank as perhaps the most irresponsible in the history of presidential campaigns.  As it turned out, McCain's man in charge of vetting potential running mates never met Palin face to face, while the campaign had contacted only one person in Alaska -- her personal attorney.  McCain himself spent less than two hours with Palin before inviting her to join the ticket.  
Bloggers at Daily Kos and several other blogs quickly published posts claiming that Bristol Palin, the Palins' 17-year-old daughter, was Trig's mother, which would make Trig Palin's grandson.  None of the posts had attribution, and several large blogs, including the Huffington Post, responded by writing that the Democrats would hurt themselves by pursuing birth conspiracy hoax rumors.

In a pattern of accepting unproven claims by Palin as established fact that was to become so familiar, the mainstream media showed no interest in the rumors, although the Anchorage Daily News reported on the Daily Kos post, saying it was "a version of a rumor -- long simmering in Alaska -- that Palin's unwed daughter Bristol was pregnant and the governor somehow covered it up by pretending to have the baby (Trig) herself."

On September 1, the McCain campaign announced at Palin's behest that Bristol Palin was in her fifth month of pregnancy, the implication being that she therefore could not be Trig's mother. The announcement was curious insofar that if accurate the pregnancy had been a private matter for months and Bristol, who had dropped out of school and been out of the public eye, was being subjected to having it revealed to the national media at the Republican convention.

Stories portraying Palin as a courageous woman for running for vice president despite Trig's problems appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post and other leading newspapers. Only the Philadelphia Inquirer went off key in writing that "Palin's decision to chase the vice presidency even as she gave birth to a son with Down syndrome seems naive."

Although the McCain campaign never allowed Palin to appear at a press conference where she might be asked about Trig, she repeatedly promised that she would release her medical records as had Obama and Joe Biden. When McCain finally did so on November 3, the day before Election Day, there was a page-and-a-half long letter annexed to the records signed by Dr. Baldwin-Johnson stating that Palin followed proper pre-natal procedures and follow-up evaluations and nothing had precluded delivery of Trig "at her home community hospital."

The wording of the letter is awkward in the extreme, and it raises many questions while answering none.
Baldwin-Johnson avoids mentioning the hospital by name or even that she was the delivering physician, let alone present for the delivery. The timing of the letter insured that the news media would have no opportunity before America voted to ask follow-up questions, and Palin and Baldwin-Johnson later declined to answer questions because Palin was no longer a candidate, let alone vice president-elect and soon to be a proverbial "heartbeat away from the presidency.

The September 1 McCain campaign press release regarding Bristol's pregnancy becomes even more problematic given the circumstances surrounding the birth of baby Tripp to Bristol Palin.

People magazine quoted a great-aunt in Seattle as saying she got an email from Chuck Health, Sarah Palin's father, saying that Tripp was born on December 28, which would put the date of conception at late March 2008 or thereabouts. That quote is the only contemporaneous account of the birth of the child. Palmer, Alaska, was mentioned as the place of birth, but again no hospital was named and again Mat-Su Regional Medical Center had no comment.

Palin's office initially declined to comment on the birth, explaining that it wanted the event to remain as private as possible although Palin and the McCain campaign had made a big deal of Bristol's pregnancy four months earlier. No photographs of baby Tripp were published, and no one outside the immediate family saw him until seven weeks after the birth.

When Bill McAllister, who had become Palin's director of communications, did issue a press release, he said that it was to correct erroneous information. The press release did not mention the hospital or place of birth.

Following the election, the Anchorage Daily News assigned reporter Lisa Demer to try to get to the bottom of the conspiracy hoax rumors, which had not gone away and continued to be pursued by a few journalists, notably blogger Andrew Sullivan, who again weighed in on the possibility of a hoax after Palin's barbs about Hillary Clinton's health.

Demer too was unable to obtain proof that Sarah Palin was Trig's mother, although she did get an angry response from Palin after Demer's editor published an account of her efforts on his blog on January 12, 2009.
* * * * *
I will preface my own take on this long-running story by noting that I was an investigative editor and reporter for many years. Series and stories that I supervised were nominated for four Pulitzer Prizes.

While that background does not make me omnipotent, I trust my instincts when wading through and weighing facts -- or in this case the absence of them -- which has taken me on a journey from being highly skeptical of there being a birth conspiracy hoax to the conclusion that there almost certainly was.


Weighing against the hoax is that large-scale conspiracies are virtually impossible to keep quiet, something noted by Palin hoax skeptics. This is why 9/11 terror attack conspiracy theorists will be treading water forever.

But this is not a large-scale conspiracy because beyond Palin's immediate family only the officials of a hospital, on whose board Palin served, and Baldwin-Johnson would have to remain silent, something made easier by the possibility that Trig was not born at Mat-Su, but had been born earlier, smuggled in by a family member, and the hospital was not directly involved and Baldwin-Johnson was not present.  Note further that Palin's four previous successful pregnancies had gone to full term, and that Palin herself has changed and embellished on key elements of her original birth story in the years since, including once claiming that she delivered Trig in an Anchorage hospital.

Weighing for the hoax is an Alaska-sized array of circumstantial evidence: That attendants on the April 17 flight from Texas to Anchorage, along with Palin's own staff, Trooper Wheeler and almost everyone else with whom she came in contact in the weeks and days before the alleged birth, did not believe that she was pregnant. This perhaps not coincidentally was a period during which no one can account for daughter Bristol's whereabouts.

In fact, it may not be merely a conspiracy but also the product of a dysfunctional family, something that the Palins sadly are.

Bristol was sent to live with an aunt in late 2007, halfway through her junior year, ostensibly to be home schooled. She may have had Trig under the care of Baldwin-Johnson, who is the founder of The Children's Place, which specializes in helping teenagers in trouble, but was unable to place Trig for adoption because he was a Down baby.
(Bristol claimed in Not Afraid of Life, a memoir published in June 2011, that she was impregnated by Levi Johnston while drunk on wine coolers on a camping trip.)



Evidence based on photographs of Palin in the weeks and days before the alleged birth is not only inconclusive, it is contradictory because a seven-month pregnant woman simply cannot hide a fetus.
Yet Palin looks flat tummied in some of the photos such as the ones above taken on February 13 -- some eight weeks before Trig's alleged birth -- and pregnant although not pregnant in the right way in others. This leads Scharlott to suggest that Palin might have been wearing padding on some occasions, something that doesn't seem far-fetched.
Had Palin, who is an extremely proud woman, been in the latter stages of a pregnancy, she presumably would have worn clothing that would not try to hide that. Instead, she took to wearing long scarves that covered her belly. Furthermore, a late February interview with her by a reporter with a film crew from an Alaska broadcast outlet shows a woman who does not appear to be pregnant who is walking on snow in high heels while holding a cup of coffee in one hand.
Then there is the screen shot below which purports to show Trig, who is being held by Palin's mother, less than 24 hours after his birth. Does he look like a one-month premature baby less than 24 hours after his birth? Of course he doesn't, which is the view of a neonatologist.



One question remains: If there was a hoax, why did Sarah Palin perpetrate it?

Dr. Jeffrey Parks, a Cleveland surgeon, later wrote of the journey that Palin took after she says her water broke:
"Digest that for just a second.  A 43 year old wowman carrying a child with known Down's Syndrome, in her eighth month of pregnancy voluntarily embarked upon a transcontinental adventure to give a speech.  Then after noticing some cramps and the passage of amniotic fluid, she went head with her speech and, instead of proceeding directly to the nearest Dallas high risk pregnancy center, boarded a four hour flight to Seattle.  Then she hung out in the Seattle airport lounge for a while and took a connecting flight to Alaska.  Then she drives to Wasilla.  Finally she decided to seek medical attention at a local Wasilla hospital, a facility lacking an NICU and other high risk specialists.  That's her story . . . Palin willfully and wantonly placed herself and her unborn child in tremendous danger by flying cross country with amniotic fluid running down her legs . . . What kind of mother would take a risk like that with her child, let alone a high risk, premature one?"
While Palin used Trig as a stage prop during her vice presidential run and has used him similarly since then, she also has been fiercely protective of he and her family.  Palin's post-vice presidential nomination popularity went through the roof in part because of the omnipresent Trig, and claiming that she was the mother of Bristol's baby may have been less an act of political opportunism than reckless personal expediency, if not altruism.
To use late journalist Joe McGinniss's term, I suppose I am "trignostic," meaning that I am skeptical about Palin's story.  But I am not absolutely certain that it is not true in the absence of a proverbial "smoking gun," although an observation shared by many people who have known Palin since high school -- and know that she is a pathological liar of stunning dimensions -- weighs heavily in favor of a hoax: Even if Palin had not faked the story, she was more than capable of doing so.

So I do lean very strongly toward there having been a hoax. 
In the end, it comes down to this for me: Sarah Palin is so narcissistic she believes that if something comes out of her mouth, it must be true.  But if she was the mother of Trig, she would not have acted imprudently by bypassing hospitals in Texas, Seattle and Anchorage with neo-natal units capable of delivering premature babies. She simply would not have endangered Trig's life.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Perspective On The VA Scandal: Face It, We're Indifferent To Our Well Being

Now that the dust is beginning to settle around the Veterans Administration hospitals scheduling scandal, it is time to put an unwelcome perspective on things.  I say unwelcome because this scandal is merely the tip of an immense iceberg -- a profoundly dysfunctional American health care system that thrives on indifference, a reality that virtually no one wants to acknowledge, let alone address.
That perspective:
* The VA hospital system would be overworked and under-resourced even without the Bush Wars.
But the mission that it is trying to fulfill is impossible with the hundreds of thousands of additional patients from those wars -- as many as 700,000 by some estimates -- some merely needing routine care, but many requiring more intensive and time-consuming care, and in tragically too many cases, psychiatric care.

* These psychiatric disorders stem directly from those wars.
There was the unjustifiable war in Iraq with continuously shifting rationales that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks but was foisted on us by a neocon brain trust that relishes shooting and bombing anything that moves, and a justifiable war in Afghanistan that, just as it was making headway, foundered because it was bled for the fool's mission in Iraq.

* The root of the scandal is a profound mismatch.
Congress demands prompt, quality care for veterans but won't adequately fund it, resulting in a chasm between fulfilling that mission and the VA's resources, which has prompted administrators, aided and abetted by doctors and nurses, to resort to secret schedules at 26 hospitals, and perhaps more, which has left some patients to die while awaiting appointments.

* Under the Obama administration, the VA patient load has increased by over one million veterans.
While returning Iraq and Afghanistan war vets are a big part of that increase, the president made good on his campaign promise to expand access to the VA system for all vets, the inevitable result being an increase in waiting times for appointments.  Lost in the outrage is that waiting times have been shrinking from their high at the beginning of 2013, and backlogs today are less than half of what they were then.
* All that noted, the scandal erupted on Obama's watch. 
Never mind that Republicans have on the one hand sought to reduce veterans benefits and access to care for years while waving the American flag with the other hand and blah-blahing about supporting the troops.  While not on the scale of the recession, this is yet another Bush era mess that Obama has to clean up, and he'd better damned well do it.
* Trouble is, Obama shows little sign of doing much of anything beyond being photo op outraged. 
The scandal requires a full court press of an investigation by the Justice Department, which can impose criminal penalties, and not merely the internal inspection by the Veterans Integrated Service Network ordered by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric "I'm Mad As Hell About This" Shinseki.
* The scandal has prompted the usual suspects to opine that Obama was again out of the loop. 
Citing the fatal Benghazi attack and problems with the Affordable Care Act rollout, they say the president should have known about what was going on with secret scheduling at the Phoenix VA medical center before a recently-retired doctor and a local journalist blew the whistle and the scandal began to unfold.  Guilty as charged on the ACA mess; not guilty on other counts.
* The scandal begs the question of whether the VA should change the way it provides care.
Should it treat service-related only conditions, which it once did, or continue its so-called universal care system, which would require an enormous increase in funding to repair the deficiencies the scandal has laid bare in an era when Congress can agree on virtually nothing of consequence.

* Is the VA hospital system, as reliably conservative critics claim, too big to succeed? 
How to deal with the source of the scandal -- a 125-plus day backlog of nearly 300,000 disability claims?  What beyond sound-bite messaging about the problem would critics propose as the solution?  Universal health care?  No way.  Allowing vets in sparsely populated areas like the Southwest, where the scandal first broke, to get VA-reimbursed urgent and emergency care at any hospital?  Good idea, but critics aren't advocating that.
* * * * *
It is a sad commentary that the Veterans Administration, even with its substantial resource and funding shortfalls, and now the scheduling scandal, does a better job of caring for veterans than the rest of society.  No one, you see, is arguing in the heat of this particular moment that publicly- and privately-funded medical systems do a better job and should be models for the VA, and for good reason, because they do not.

In recent decades, America's standing has steadily eroded.  It is indisputably no longer a great country, ranking at or near the bottom among the 17 industrialized nations in quality-of-life and other social measures, and nowhere is this more glaring than in health care.

America is first by some measures, all of them negative: These include infant mortality, incarceration rates and anxiety disorders, as well as a gulf between the rich and everyone else that accelerated during the Bush Recession as the economy tanked and unemployment soared, but CEOs and their corporations pocketed record stock dividends and profits.  But by other measures, including life expectancy, as well as obesity, child poverty, commitment to infrastructure development, broadband access and arts funding, America ranks dead last or nearly so.

Full implementation of the Affordable Care Act still will leave millions of Americans uninsured and without access to decent health care.  And the ACA will only nibble at the underlying problems in the system, which has by far the highest per patient costs in the world.  No, the ACA will not solve those problems, which stem from the uniquely American notion -- at least among its industrialized peers -- that being healthy is not a right, nor is it in the best interests of society because even a semblance of universal care would fetter millionaire doctors, for-profit hospitals, insurers and Big Pharma.
It is bad enough that so many men and women have difficulty getting health care after they lay down their arms and return home.  The VA scheduling ruses are indeed a scandal.  But as scandals go it is hard to top our indifference to the well being of all our citizens.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Not Your Ordinary Memorial Day Poem, But Then This Holiday Is Different

I have seen over 40 Memorial Days come and go since I was discharged from the Army.  Barely at that, because I had a one-day growth of beard and a lifer wasn't going to allow this lowly sergeant to board a Freedom Bird until I shaved.  Having grown a pair while serving our country, I stared him down, he relented, and I flew home.  Except for regular trims, I have not shaved since.
Anyhow, this Memorial Day feels different.  There is the Veterans Administration scandal, of course (and what a relief it is to finally have a genuine scandal on President Obama's watch, even if its roots are George W. Bush's fool's errand in Iraq), I am recovering from two invasive surgeries (the worst thing having happened to me in the Army being a busted-up knee while breaking up a bar fight), and I have been thinking a lot about my dear, departed friend Nick.
And the following poem . . .
WAIL OF A BEATEN WOMAN
By Smith Dawless

    My war-weary Willie is back home again,
    Decidely psychoneutortic.
    Afflicted with strange paranoic desires
    Acquired in locations exotic.

    Emibttered, frustrated, he cannot relieve
    His desperate nervous condition
    Unless he is staging an amateur bout
    With me on the floor of our kitchen.

    The eminent experts explain that I must
    Be patient and most understanding,
    Regardless of where my anatomy's hit
    Or how I get battered in landing.

    So beat me, dear daddy, sixteen to the bar,
    My floating ribs part from their mooring
    Oh, cave in my clavicle, shatter my shin,
    Assured that my love is enduring.

    At least, until I can rise from the floor
    And get from the cabinet shelf
    A rolling pin, darling, to knock you out cold.
    I've a few inhibitions myself! 


* * * * *
On a more positive note, there is this story and video about a U.S. Marine being reunited with Thor, his bomb-sniffing dog, four years after they served together in Afghanistan.  Dogs don't ever forget.  Ever.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Is Japan Plotting A More Militaristic Future While Not Confronting Its Past?

Prime Minister Abe visits Yasukuni Shrine
Nearly 70 years after the end of World War II, Germany is a fully fledged player in Europe and the world. Its Nazi past is not forgotten, but is no longer an issue. By contrast, Japan is a marginal player in Asia and nearly invisible on the world stage beyond its quality automobiles and electronic goods, and its militaristic past, let alone its inability to seriously confront its crimes against humanity during the war, remains very much an issue.  For this reason alone, any effort on the part of the Tokyo government to move away from Japan's postwar pacifism should be greeted with concern.
And concerned we should be about the recommendation of an advisory panel appointed by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to junk Japan's war-renouncing Constitution and expand the role of its military, the Self-Defense Forces, which has been limited to protecting Japan's own territory and taking on minor roles in global peacekeeping missions.
Abe's initiative ostensibly is to allow Japan to form military alliances with other democratic nations in addition to the U.S. and allow its forces to come to the aid of allied nations under attack; say, to shoot down a North Korean missile aimed at the U.S., when Japan itself is not at risk.  This is something that its Constitution, which was drafted by U.S. occupation forces after the war, expressly forbids. 
(Japan's no-nukes policy would remain unchanged.  Public opposition to nuclearization of its military is overwhelming, although its governments have routinely looked the other way when U.S. ships and submarines with nuclear weapons have entered its ports.)
Abe's initiative comes at a time when powerful China has grown increasingly assertive while the pathetic Pyongyang regime remains reliably bellicose.  Yet polls show broad opposition in Japan to Abe's initiative because of a fear that the nationalistic prime minister would use the changes to dismantle the Constitution and its unambiguous rejection of war.
Abe calls the doctrine underlying the proposed changes "proactive pacifism" and asserts that a stronger military would help ensure peace.

"By increasing our deterrence, our country will be able to avoid becoming caught up in war," he says.
* * * * *
There is no more controversial symbol of Japan's militaristic past than Yasukuni Shrine. 

Over 1,000 convicted Japanese war criminals, including 14 so-called Class A war criminals who were executed after trial --  the civilian leaders, generals and admirals most responsible for the systematic massacre of tens of millions of civilians, use of rape and chemical and biological warfare, and brutalities against POWs -- are enshrined in the magnificent Shinto shrine in Tokyo's Chiyoda ward.

The shrine includes a museum that seeks to justify Japan's invasions of its neighbors.
Prime Minister Abe, like some of his more recent predecessors, has made it a point to visit Yasakuni although these visits are sure to cause offense in China, South Korea and other nations who suffered under the Japanese fist.  His last visit was in December, although he sent "ritual offerings" to the shrine last month just before President Obama's three-day visit, a seemingly in-your-face gesture that "disappointed" the U.S. State Department and bolstered the view that Abe is an historical revisionist who believes the convictions of Japan's wartime leaders were merely "victors' justice."
* * * * *
I have more than a passing acquaintance with Japan. With Tokyo as my base, I traveled the country in the early 1970s. I made many friends and became deeply enamored of Japanese architecture, art, drama and cuisine, as well as their love of American jazz.

But I also came to understand that the Japanese are literally and figuratively insular and xenophobia is a national trait. They also are deeply racist.  These traits go a long way toward explaining why Japan rose from the ashes of World War II to become an economic colossus but has not been able to shake off its imperialist past and become a major player on the global political stage.

Although it is long past time for Japan to grow its own military capability and play a larger security role, although not to the extent that Abe now advocates, the Japanese themselves recognize that there is something in their national character that has prevented them from accepting and taking responsibility for their past. And that the prospect of a militarist future is deeply worrisome.

Japanese textbooks still paper over the country's barbarous wartime conduct. Pearl Harbor notwithstanding, many Japanese believe that their country was not the aggressor and atrocities like the Rape of Nangking never happened. According to opinion polls, about a third of all Japanese rationalize the visits of prime ministers to Yasukuni to save face because of condemnations from China and South Korea. Ah, yes, saving face.

These sentiments make the prospect of a remilitarized Japan a frightening prospect to Japanese who believe that despite the outward appearance of a sophisticated society moving with alacrity into the 21st century, a middle course between pacifism and militarism is not possible. I have to agree.
* * * * *
Japan is at a crossroads. Its population is aging and its birth rate continues to drop. There will literally not be enough people to run Japan's factories and institutions in a few decades, while its immigration policies make it extremely difficult for non-Japanese to become citizens, let alone enter the workforce.

I moonlighted at a newspaper in Tokyo where my boss was a talented man whose father was Japanese and mother Chinese. Although he was easily the brightest star in the newsroom, because of his mixed parentage he had no chance of being promoted above the lower middle-management position he had held for years and would have until he retired. As a gaijin (foreigner), I stood no chance of getting a decent job, and still would have no chance today.

No, not all Japanese are racist xenophobes. My friends certainly weren't, and as painful as the subject was, they acknowledged the truth about Japan and World War II and its inability to come to terms with its past. Some had spent time in Europe and the U.S. and several attended American universities. Coming home, shaking off the Western ways that had loved and accepting their parents' wishes that they accept the old ways was painful to watch.

My landlady, Mrs. Mioshi, was one of the first Japanese women to attend Oxford University in England. We became good friends, and one evening after farewell dinner with she and her husband in their upstairs apartment, she said that she wanted to show me something before I flew home.

She explained that she had brought back a lovely Wedgewood china dinner service from England before the war and had buried it deep in the back yard of their Tokyo home early in 1945 when the U.S. advance up the Pacific enabled its B-29 bombers to reach Tokyo.

The Mioshis lived out the closing months of the war with relatives in the country. They returned after the surrender to find Roppongi, their neighborhood, decimated from firebombings.

Mrs. Mioshi told this story as she opened the doors to a cupboard and pulled out a dinner plate.

"It was a lovely ivory white," she explained as she handed the plate to me. "But you can see what the intense heat of the firebombings did."

Indeed. The plate had turned an otherwordly cobalt blue, as had the rest of the dinner service.

"I forgive the Americans for what they had to do," Mrs. Mioshi said in her tiny voice.  Japanese often look down when they address gaijin, but she looked me right in the eye.

"It is just that we will never be able to confront our past, let alone forgive ourselves for it."

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Meet The Tweedledum, Tweedledee & Tweedledah Of Climate Change

The year was 1978.  Rick Scott was a 26-year-old Navy veteran and up-and-coming entrepreneur who had bought and revived two Kansas City donut shops.  Jeb Bush was a 25-year-old working in the international division of a Texas bank.  Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban emigres, was a four-year-old attending kindergarten in Miami.  It was the year that Jim Jones's followers committed mass suicide in Guyana and a Pole by the name of Karol Cardinal Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II, but the biggest story passed unnoticed -- publication of a scientific paper by the eminent glaciologist John H. Mercer that made a chilling prediction: The human-driven release of greenhouse gases would be disastrous for the immense West Antarctic ice sheet, which was becoming destabilized and could cause a rise in sea level of 10 feet or more in coming years.
Today Scott, Bush and Rubio are bright stars in the Republican firmament.  Scott is Florida's governor, Bush a former governor and son and brother of presidents, and Rubio a U.S. senator.  And as two scientific papers out this week show, Mercer's prediction is being borne out. 
But all three men -- mentioned as potential future presidents -- deny that climate change exists, or that humans are responsible for it, and refuse to discuss this disaster in the offing although it is the most pressing global issue.  Or that their sweet home Florida already is showing the effects of rising sea levels, while in parts of Miami -- which is vying with New York City to become the American Venice -- flooding occurs even on dry and sunny days.
These men, well educated and by appearances worldly wise, have plenty of company.  Although a study of nearly 14,000 global warming studies found that 97 percent of them concluded the planet is imperiled by climate change and that change is indeed human driven, a substantial minority of Americans also are denialists.  In fact, these Americans stand pretty much alone among the citizens of industrialized nations in not believing that climate change is a reality and that urgent steps need to be taken to confront it.
Why are Americans outliers on the issue of gravest consequence to the human race?
Insofar as Scott, Bush and Rubio are concerned, the answer is easy: To acknowledge climate change and our role in it would be committing heresy in today's Republican Party, which is even an outlier among right-of-center parties in the Western World in determinedly ignoring evidence compiled by legions of scientists showing that not just rising sea levels, but relentless droughts, hurricanes, storm surges and floods are products of a warming planet. 
Rubio is Party Pitch Perfect when he warns that efforts to limit carbon and other emissions substantially responsible for the greenhouse gases that are driving global warming will have "a devastating impact on our economy."
This is rich in two respects: Republicans extol the virtues of the market and the ability of the private sector to make right what ails us, but in this case those magnificent and munificent corporations won't be able to cope with a cap on carbon emissions or otherwise clean up their acts.  And it was only just a few years ago that economists in the administration of Jeb's big brother sang the praises of market-based pollution controls, while John McCain, the party's 2008 presidential nominee, made cap-and-trade limits on greenhouse gases part of his campaign.
Since then, efforts by the Obama administration to pass cap-and-trade legislation have been branded by Republicans as "Marxist," passive energy initiatives like solar and wind generation are presidential overreach, and even the most urgent environmental initiatives, including reducing the pollution that is turning the Chesapeake Bay into a cesspool, are vehemently opposed because they would cut into the profits of coal companies and other major polluters.
The answer as to why Americans beyond politicians like Scott, Bush and Rubio are outliers on climate change is even easier: The numbers are pulled down by Republicans in general, including hard right-wingers who believe climate change is a hoax being carried out as part of an international conspiracy. 
According to Pew Research Center surveys, 76 percent of Brazilians say they are concerned about climate change, as are 72 percent of Japanese, 64 percent of Italians and Spaniards, 56 percent of Germans and 54 percent of Canadians and French.

In contrast, only 40 to 45 percent of Americans (depending on the Pew survey) are concerned.  When Pew broke those percentages down, it found that 65 percent of Democrats say they are concerned, while only 25 percent of Republicans say they are.  When the Republican numbers are broken down, only 10 percent of the people identifying themselves as Tea Partiers are concerned, while 35 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans are concerned.

The only countries with lower levels of climate concern than American Republicans are Egypt (16 percent) and Pakistan (15 percent).  Great company, eh?
Beyond calling anything they don't like bad names, Republicans are reliably proponents of American Exceptionalism.  You know, that God created the U.S. to not only be the bestest nation, but to scold other nations about how to mind their affairs and meddle in those affairs, whether starting wars and imposing American-style democracy at point of gun or fomenting dissent, when the urge to be bellicose arises. 

But in the case of climate change, it seems safe to substitute American Exceptionalism for American Stupidity.
 
Of course, there is a silver lining -- I won't live long enough, probably, to see North Wildwood become the new American Venice. It will be up to my great-grandchildren to fix the mess that my generation refused to deal with. It's too bad, though, that I won't be around to see how future textbooks deal with the fact that U.S. Republicans were investigating Benghazi for the 37th time while the world drowned.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/attytood/No-sheet.html#eoY56tJRbK8eXwSf.99
Of course, there is a silver lining -- I won't live long enough, probably, to see North Wildwood become the new American Venice. It will be up to my great-grandchildren to fix the mess that my generation refused to deal with. It's too bad, though, that I won't be around to see how future textbooks deal with the fact that U.S. Republicans were investigating Benghazi for the 37th time while the world drowned.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/attytood/No-sheet.html#eoY56tJRbK8eXwSf.99
Of course, there is a silver lining -- I won't live long enough, probably, to see North Wildwood become the new American Venice. It will be up to my great-grandchildren to fix the mess that my generation refused to deal with. It's too bad, though, that I won't be around to see how future textbooks deal with the fact that U.S. Republicans were investigating Benghazi for the 37th time while the world drowned.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/attytood/No-sheet.html#eoY56tJRbK8eXwSf.99
Oh, and by the way, Messrs. Scott, Bush and Rubio: Mother Nature doesn't believe in voodoo science, play the stock market or subscribe to legislative gridlock.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Republicans Get Ready To Foist Their Grand Illusion On Voters. Again.

We're going to cruise right past the 2014 election, which I don't believe is going to make much of a difference in the national balance of power, such as it is, to the main event: The 2016 election and the Grand Illusion that the Republican Party will try to pull off again in its uphill fight to reclaim the presidency.
That task is not terribly different than it was in 2012 when the GOP, which had lurched far to the right and away from the electoral mainstream on a host of issues in the preceding years, held its collective nose and acceded to the nomination of Mitt Romney, an empty suit, hapless campaigner and conservative dolled up in moderate drag who, it was hoped, could deceive enough swing voters into believing the party was actually rather mainstream, you know.
Successfully foisting the Grand Illusion in 2016 will be substantially more difficult. 
Despite Barack Obama's lukewarm popularity and a shameless Republican disinformation campaign that with some success has falsely painted the Affordable Care Act as something akin to the Holocaust, the core curriculum education initiative a Commie plot, the Benghazi attack the most awfulest thing to happen since Pearl Harbor, and global warming a liberal hallucination, the most wretched aspects of today's GOP will have to be locked up in the attic with that proverbial crazy uncle if Hillary Rodham Clinton is to be defeated.  These aspects include an aversion to governing and the hard work that entails, infatuation with war, coziness with racism and an utter disdain for Washington helping Americans who lack the kind of essentials (like jobs) that Republican politicians take for granted.
Republicans have plenty going for them -- their own television news network (Fox) and their own court (The Supremes), as well as a depressing number of people who will drink whatever reality-absent Kool Aid the party pours down their throats. 
The party's big problem in 2016 is that it doesn't have another Romney. This is because the potential presidential candidates most likely to be appealing to the mainstream are Jeb Bush, who has a surname problem (this despite what some folks na├»vely view as Hillary's own surname problem), and Chris Christie, who has a corruption problem (he is so dishonest that he reminds me of an old school big city Democratic power broker and so dumb that he has driven the wealthiest state in the union to the brink of bankruptcy).  So, we can forget about either being anointed the GOP standard bearer. 
* * * * *
Not unlike 2012, this leaves a slew of unelectables, led by right-wing heartthrobs Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.  This is because each of these men carry enough negative baggage to make a Sherpa groan, and each in their own way will remind swing voters of how nuttily out of touch the Republican Party has become. This is why moderate party leaders, and there are a few left, are working hard behind the scenes to trip them up.
There is the additional problem that all three men are senators and Congress is held in historically low esteem these days.  (The 2016 election could turn history on its ear, but it is worth noting that the last three senators Republicans nominated for president, John McCain, Bob Dole and Barry Goldwater, lost by an average of 282 electoral votes.  That is not a typo.  Warren Harding was the last Republican senator to be elected president.)
If the party wants to avoid nominating someone from inside the Beltway, there are other Republican governors out there: Take Mary Fallon of Oklahoma (please!) and Rick Perry of Texas, who presumably has brushed up on foreign policy since he bombed so badly in the 2012 primary season and was thrown from the GOP Clown Car by heavyweights (cough, cough) like Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.
An additional problem few pundits are factoring into the 2016 mix is that virtually all Republicans in Washington -- and governors including Fallon and Perry, as well as Rick Scott of Florida and Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania -- have bitterly opposed the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid.
A prediction: By 2016, the ACA will be widely accepted as millions of voters and their families benefit from the sea change that is resulting in dramatically increased access to reasonably priced health insurance and the smorgasbord of Republican lies about Obamacare will flutter away in the wind like so many hanging chads.  It is a do-nothing Republican's worst nightmare.
* * * * *
Speaking of hanging chads, no one -- not Karl Rove or Bill Kristol or the brothers known as the Kochtopus -- could have predicted the mess the Republican Party has gotten itself into as it confronts yet another presidential election season out of step with that electoral mainstream. And deservedly so.

A little history: In 2000, the GOP found itself at a crossroads at the end of Bill Clinton's second term with a slate of presidential wannabees ranging from John McCain and Orrin Hatch, both well respected within the party and without, gadzillionaire Steve Forbes, evangelical Gary Bauer, and wingnut Alan Keyes.

The party faithful nominated George W. Bush because that was the path of least resistance, never mind that he was an uncurious lightweight who had shown no signs of an ability to be presidential as Texas governor. The Supreme Court, of course, gifted Bush the Oval Office and there followed eight years of unmitigated disasters that in turn gifted a Democratic senator by the name of Obama the presidency.

Those first eight years of the new millennium were crucial for the GOP and it blew it.  Totally.
Instead of building for the future on a national level -- after all, the time would come when it would run out of Bushes to plant on the White House lawn, and that time has arrived -- it pandered to Christianists and then Tea Partiers while slaying Richard Lugar, Robert Bennett and several other of its most moderate leaders, all arguably presidential timber, at the altar of political purity.  And in what one commentator calls the party's "demographic death spiral," it has worked tirelessly to turn off blacks, Latinos and other people of color who happen to be the fastest growing bloc of voters.   Then there is the party's woman problem, and I don't mean Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann.
* * * * *
All of this is not to say that Democrats have clear sailing in 2016.  Despite a built-in advantage in Electoral College votes, Hillary Clinton does have a problem having nothing to do with her name.  That is the fatigue some voters feel after a party has held the White House for two or more terms.
That noted, the big knots that the Republican Party has tied itself in will not be soon undone, perhaps not even for a generation or so, or as long as that nutty uncle is the face of the party.  This is a gift to the Democrats that keeps on giving, the first installment being to blow an opportunity to keep the White House in 2008, the second getting steamrolled by Obama in 2012 despite his unpopularity and a crappy economy, and the third in 2016 when it tries and again fails to pull off the Grand Illusion.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Rumors Of The Newspaper Industry's Death Are Not Greatly Exaggerated

I'll have some of whatever people are smoking who believe that daily newspapers -- the ones that have made it to this point, that is -- can survive in our increasingly digitized world.  A big hit of whatever they are smoking, please, because all evidence points to the contrary.  In fact, the newspaper industry is in free fall.
There are exceptions, of course.  The New York Times is prospering and has never been better, and I say that as a 35 year veteran of working for daily newspapers who picked up a few Pulitzer Prize nominations along the way, survived and turned to blogging because he couldn't stop scratching his writerly itch.  (More about The Times a bit later.)  But with damned few exceptions, the outlook for newspapers in both dead tree and online incarnations is as black as an inked printing press just before the bulldog edition runs.  Remember them?
Newspapers live and die by ad revenue, not circulation, and by this key measure the news (pardon the pun) is exceedingly grim: Print ad revenues, which in recent years have been combined with digital revenues, are now the lowest they've been in the 64 years since the Newspaper Association of America began tracking industry data. That's 1950, when Truman was president, there was distant thunder from the Korean Peninsula, the New York Yankees would win the second of five consecutive World Series, the U.S. population was less than half its current size, and the economy was about one-seventh as big. Newspaper ad revenues are down more than 50 percent in the past five years alone.
Things have gotten so bad that the Newspaper Association has stopped reporting quarterly advertising revenue data and now releases only annual data. Explained association CEO Caroline Little, it was "time to stop beating themselves up four times a year with the negative numbers."

* * * * *
In a June 2008 post titled "The Great Mainstream Media Implosion," I wrote that there were "two perversely complimentary trends" that had sewed the seeds for the news media's (as opposed to merely print media's) implosion:

*
The consolidation of print and broadcast media ownership into a few corporations that put their share price before the quality of their product at a time when the decline of readers and viewers was well underway.


* The inability of the print and broadcast media to understand that the Internet revolution would render their ossified business models obsolete, and when that reality finally sunk in, their halting attempts to develop new models.
With the hindsight of six years, my analysis was pretty much spot on, thank you, but I could not have anticipated the enormous growth of social media and a corresponding decline in interest in news.  The Daily Show excepted, of course.
Newspapers painted themselves into an especially tight corner.
When I came into the business in 1967 at the tender age of 20, most reporters and editors drank like fish and smoked like chimneys (on the job), lived and died for the news scoop, type was set on massive Linotype machines using molten lead, and when the presses of morning and evening newspapers rolled it was like printing money.
Today the remaining newsrooms are like vegetarian cafeterias, the scoop is most often the purview of cable news channels and celebrity gossip outlets like TMZ, the typesetting and printing process is electronic, and when the presses roll for the remaining morning papers (there are no evening papers as such anymore), one can only wonder how many years it will be before they are silenced.
Even as a tireless advocate of scraping the old business model, I probably would not have been able to render my judgment that the media is stumbling toward irrelevance if I still was on the inside looking out. The ivory tower does that to you.
I was a buyout baby – taking an early retirement package offered by the once great Knight Ridder newspaper chain nine weeks before aircraft were crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon by Al Qaeda operatives whose pre-9/11 activities had alarmed a small handful of CIA and FBI agents who were unable to get their somnambulant bosses' attention. It fell to independent journalists and not the mainstream media to expose this shocking back story.   Ditto with what was really going on in Iraq and the lame justifications for that fool's errand.
A bad economy has been a player, but economic ups and downs have been an aspect of the business since John Peter Zenger published the New York Weekly Journal in the early 18th century, so economic conditions are a lame and self-serving excuse. 
In the case of the Philadelphia Daily News, where I labored for two decades, the story has been pretty much lousy upper management: Knight Ridder sold the Daily News and sister Philadelphia Inquirer to another media chain, which then sold them for a cool $551 million in 2006 to the first in a succession of what would become six owners over the next eight years, all of whom had no experience running newspapers and some who were more interested in cashing in on the papers' iconic office tower, which eventually was sold for $22.7 million, and meddling in the newsrooms.  The sixth owner, a Democratic power broker, is expected to ante up a measly $55 million for what is left of the papers, which have won a combined 22 Pulitzer Prizes.
Not long ago, I cared deeply about the future of newspapers. And I acknowledge that my doom-and-gloom scenario is tempered by the reality that newspapers, especially in smaller communities, will continue to be vital sources of information. How else to find out what the school lunch menus are?  But newspapers in general will continue to lose their standing as the most important sources of information and opinion, and the place and power of the Fourth Estate will become as archaic as those Linotype machines. The television news media will not be far behind.
* * * * *
It is Michael Kinsley's educated view that "high-quality journalism," which he says in his inaugural Vanity Fair column is seen by some people as being doomed by the Internet, will survive.

Kinsley founded
Slate magazine way back in 1996.  Today Slate is owned by the Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who picked up this shell-of-its-former-self newspaper at the fire-sale price of $250 million last year.  I love Slate, and if I could take only one journalist to a desert island, it would be Slate's Dahlia Lithwick, who not only knows what she writes about -- usually the conservative soap opera known as the U.S. Supreme Court -- but does so in depth and with an edge.
Kinsley's column is a disappointment.  It does not live up to its headline, and he meanders around in making the argument that good stuff will survive the onslaught of the Internet, which in reality is eating newspapers for lunch.   I'm also afraid Kinsley is conflating edgy journalism with quality journalism, which he can do because he is a media guru, but which I will not do because to me quality journalism is predicated on digging, digging and more digging.  If the result is written with an edge, so much the better.
The problem is that there are fewer and fewer outlets for quality journalism.  Many of the newspapers that supported investigative journalism -- or for that matter pursuing any story that might take a few days or weeks or months to pan out -- chucked those kinds of stories in their initial rounds of cost cutting.  Investigative reporting is a dying field because too many of the  newspapers that have survived have become controversy averse, while others cannot justify assigning a reporter to chase potentially litigious stories for months on end when there is no guarantee that they'll ever see the light of day and every guarantee that they'll piss people off.
* * * * *
This finally brings us (back) to The New York Times, which has not only survived the scandal-plagued Howell Raines-Bill Keller eras (can you say Judith Miller and Jayson Blair?) but as noted above has never been better.  This is because it balances quality journalism with edgy stuff.
Some recent examples of quality journalism include Walt Bogdanich's probing takeout on less than half-assed efforts by the Tallahassee police and Florida State University administration to investigate an allegation that star quarterback Jameis Winston, who went on to win the Heisman Trophy and lead the Seminoles to the 2013 national championship, raped a student, as well as a series last year on America's dysfunctional and outrageously expensive health-care system, and another series this year on the travails of the middle class.  And for edge, it is tough to beat a contest in which readers were invited to submit a haiku, a 17-syllable poem, about New York City.
My favorite:

On the 6 to Spring
two cops help a tourist whose

map is upside down

Then there are recent forays into combining stories with videos and sound clips, notable among them the shocking "Boys in the Bunkhouse," an expose into how mentally challenged men who worked at a turkey processing plant in a small Iowa town were virtual prisoners in a group home for some 30 years, and the delightful "Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie," about the hunt for two phantom women who changed American music and then vanished without a trace.
No other newspaper has The Times deep bench, of course, but there is no better model for what newspapers can and should do as they fight their way into the cyber future while not abandoning traditional, pre-Internet values.
Photograph by Carl Mydans/Time & Life Pictures
Getty Images via Vanity Fair