June 07, 2014

The #Twins are stupid enough to make #ScottBoras smile on Morales

Yesterday, I deconstructed the claims by Jon Heyman, sports "reporter" at CBS and moonlighting PR scribe for überagent Scott Boras, that designated hitter and pseudo-first baseman Kendrys Morales
was about to get an offer from some team. I went through the entire American League, noting that most teams didn't need for either a DH or a Dr. Strangeglove at 1B.

After knocking out the teams that had no need, near the end, I said:
Other teams? Rays are out of it. Royals and Twins are price-tag challenged. That's pretty true for the A's, too. Astros are that, plus out of it. And, that covers the AL.
So, Mr. Heyman, at least in the AL, there's NO "mystery team." 
That said, I forgot to allow for the stupidity that still populates a fair amount of general managers' offices.

Well, according to Tweets from both Heyman and the more reputable Ken Rosenthal, who's retweeting off of Heyman, indirectly, the Twinkies have bit. Here's Rosenthal:
Morales to confirmed. One-year deal. Dollars less than Drew but "in ballpark," source says. First reported:
I Tweeted back that, with Heyman, "in ballpark" was pure fluffery until I saw some numbers. And I stand by that.

The Twins are tied for last place in the weakest division in baseball, by run differential, which I noted in this piece about the Tigers. It is more than likely that no wild card comes from this division. And, since the White Sox just got Jose Abreu back, it's unlikely the Twinkies leapfrog both them and the Tigers.

As for where Morales plays? The Twins have Joe Mauer at first, so it ain't there, even with Mauer in a recent slump. Josmil Pinto, listed at DH by B-R, is at least serviceable, and a lot cheaper than Morales for the moderate-at-best upgrade. They've got other players they can rotate in and out of the DH spot, like Josh Willingham or young Danny Santana, when they're not in the outfield.

Sounds like Terry Ryan just blew some money. And gave Borass a nice, cheesy smile.

And, it's not like the Twins have a lot of house money to play with. Per Cot's Contracts, after cutting salary overhead a fair amount the previous two years, it crept up a moderate amount this year. And, if Morales is getting, say, $8M for the remainder (prorated $12M), the final total could approach 2010's $93 million. Per Deadspin, this would push them to No. 18 among the 30 teams.

As for Twins' fans? I can applaud the "go for it" mentality of Ryan while saying it's likely to fall short. What the team really needs is pitching. Its free agent moves in the last offseason illustrated this, but weren't enough. 

And, that "go for it" mentality may be the reason for this. Trying to compete, even though this isn't the right move to really do it, might put some more butts in Target Stadium seats and a few more eyeballs on Twins' cable TV broadcasts. (Oh, for the days when you could get MLB teams on a non-cable non-network standard VHF, or maybe UHF, channel.)

One word of advice to #graduates — and it's not #plastics



The “plastics” reference, which many of today’s graduates might not even catch, is from dialogue in the movie, “The Graduate,” between Mr. McGuire (Walter Brooke) and Ben (Dustin Hoffman), as also shown in the clip above.
Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Ben: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire Are you listening?
Ben: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Ben: Just how do you mean that, sir?

I’m not Steve Jobs, Steven Spielberg, or a past or present president of the United States. So, I don’t get a lot of graduation speaking gigs. (If only they knew what they were missing.)

But, in an occasional newspaper column, and occasional blog piece, I’ve written about graduation before. I’ve noted that it’s not a finish line. Related to that, I’ve said that it’s just one step in life; I once compared it to being a rite of passage.

The Jobses and others of the world seem to be dripping with pearls of wisdom. But if not, since this is the Internet era, people make up fake speeches that they think these people, or a Bill Cosby, a George Carlin, or some other comedian or humorist should have given.

Whether in real or fake versions, these speeches try to have an aura of timelessness. That’s also important in today’s Internet era. No speaker, or speaker faker, wants to refer to the latest social media trend and thus produce a speech that may have an 18-month shelf life rather than a potentially timeless one.

So, old proverbs get updated and polished. Religious insights get a more generic spirituality and rebranded. Sports and other competition clichés get trotted out.

Behind all of this, there’s one element that seems to be hovering in the background, and, because of that, another element that’s blocked out.

The background element seems to be that, in some ways, life is relatively simple or predictable. And, that idea tends to shove aside the one that life has a fair element of luck

Now, by “luck,” I don’t mean any metaphysical force. Rather, to trot out two of those old clichés, I mean something like, “That’s the way the ball bounces,” or “That’s the way the cookie crumbles.”

And, sometimes, that’s exactly what happens. And we even have an old saying for that: “There but for the grace of God go I.”

The end of high school, or the end of college, may seem a time of near-invincibility. And, of course, belief in one’s invincibility never wants to let luck enter into the picture.

If I were to be asked to give a few thoughts today, they’d probably touch a lot on luck.

For new high school or college graduates, luck can change a job path, a career path or a study path. It can open one’s mind, if a person is ready for that. It can provide a bit of humbleness, without humiliation, if someone is open to accepting that he or she isn’t in total control. Or, it can provide a little bit of humiliation to anyone who doesn’t want to accept that.

Luck can also provide a degree of connectedness. Per the “There but for the grace of God go I” proverb, luck can tell people the reason they did or did not get a new job, a raise, or a promotion, or a new boyfriend or girlfriend, isn’t always due to rational reasons, but sometimes, due to luck.

In short, as graduates prepare to enter the edges of the adult world, thinking about luck can be a reminder that a new version of Social Darwinism, repeatedly plugged by Tea Party types that seems to be growing stronger in America, that certain material rewards or achievements are “proof” of one’s own skill, especially one’s own inherited, inborn skill, simply aren’t true.

Beyond Social Darwinism, a similar, religiously spit-polished version of this is promoted as the Success Gospel. Here, it’s not what genes you inherited that are behind your success. Rather, this is all a mark of blessing from God.

Well, at spots in the Hebrew Tanakh, and the Christian Bible, God doesn’t like storing up wealth very much. Read Amos, for example, or the Sermon on the Mount. But, at other times, like in Psalms and Proverbs, he’s pretty much “down” with getting rich as a sign of his favor to humans indeed.

As a secularist, I find this as bad as Social Darwinism. I find the New Agey version of the Success Gospel even worse, if anything. Neither the virililty of one's genes, nor the strength of one’s faithful willpower, with NO apologies to either Schopenhauer or Hitler, has a tremendous amount of connection with a lot material success for a lot of people.

Rather, it’s that good, old, non-metaphysical randomness that we call “luck.”

So, 2014 graduates? Take that word with you. For your peace of mind, it’s a lot more valuable than “plastics.” And, with an American population expected to hit 400 million by 2050, and a world population of 9 billion by then, you're going to need a lot of it.

June 06, 2014

Obama vs GOP on #Bergdahl — #Swiftboating vs Kumbaya-singing

A no-links post, other than Wikipedia. You're either familiar with the trade of five Taliban-connected prisoners from Guantanamo Bay with Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who went apparently AWOL from his base in Afghanistan and was captured and held by the Taliban-aligned Haqqani group, or not. Likewise, you're either familiar with the shitstorm that followed, originally between the Obama Administration and the Congressional GOP/Faux News/Tea Party, and is expanding as I speak to include some Democrats, or you're not.

A Facebook friend of mine noted a few days ago that a higher-level member inside Dear Leader's White House staff said on NPR that Team Obama was surprised it got swiftboated on this issue. And THAT is what this post is about.

This is yet another reason for me to tell Obamiacs and Obots, "I didn't vote for the guy. Either time."

For those who point out the history making of 2008 election, and the 2008 primaries, I say that in 2008, "I voted for both the black and the woman, in the same person." That would be 2008 Green Party presidential nominee Cynthia McKinney.

Dear Leader's summer 2008 flip-flop on legal immunity for telecommunications companies suspected of helping the National Security Agency on snooping on Americans was more than the last straw. (And we see now just how damned big of a straw it was in Dear Leader's hands.) Before that, I was already reading between the lines on his late 2002 "just war" speech in Chicago and waiting for him to further parse it. I'd already realized that far from being a radical community organizer in Chicago, under the Svengali spell of Saul Alinsky, his compromises with conservatives in graduate school on the Harvard Law Review were a more true indicator of who he was politically. Since that time, I've learned more about just how non-radical he was on community organizing, and in fact, how non-activist he was on that in general.)

As to the staffer's, or staffers' surprise? Even if you've not worked for the Obama White House, or some combination of that, one or both of his presidential campaigns and the Democratic National Committee nonstop since 2008, you've been active enough in Democratic politics to be working for Dear Leader.

And you're surprised about getting swiftboated? For what, about the 100th time? If not by the Congressional GOP, then by either Faux News or the Tea Party, in either less or more inchoate forms.

Let's just list some of the major ones, in rough chronological order.

1. The birther rumors
2. Von Jones
3. "Death panels" and other lies as part of Obamacare debates
4. "Socialist" comments and other lies
5. The secret Muslim rumors
6. The ongoing subcurrent of racism
7. James O'Keefe doing his pimp daddy fakery on ACORN
8. O'Keefe later doing similar fakery on Shirley Sherrod

And, I'll stop there, because that's just from 2009, with the exception of Sherrod, which happened in 2010. And, that's just the major incidents, not all of them

And, you, whomever, a White House staffer, or multiple ones, including a Pentagon spokestwit, are fucking surprised about once again being swiftboated? Per Michael Dukakis, a fish rots, or starts blindly singing Kumbaya nonstop, from the head down.

Actually, I will add one more link in a minute. Per some of the early stories, there's no indication that Bergdahl's fellow soldiers are associated with any organized swiftboating, so Team Obama should have been careful in focusing on organized opposition. Second, and here's your link, it blew it by touting him as a hero.

Much more than the idea of a "war room," Dear Leader and his minions got the idea of a "24-hour news PR cycle" from Slick Willie. And yet, you think you can't get out-spun.

Even more than him not being that liberal, although I didn't know it in 2008, that's perhaps a better reason to tell Obamiacs why I didn't vote for him.

He's that fucking stupid.

He and his staffers are that stupid to think they'd never be swiftboated over this.

They're that stupid to have had anybody tout, and nobody shoot down, the idea that Bergdahl was a hero.

For a group with two online-driven presidential campaigns, they're that stupid for not doing advance research on exactly how the swiftboating might play out. Or if anything else iffy, like Bergdahl's dad, might turn up. (Liberals are right in defending his beard;  defending his Gitmo Tweet is a bit more iffy, at least.)

They're that stupid for thinking that, even if they didn't tout Bowe Bergdahl as a war hero, and did their advance research, they wouldn't get swiftboated.

They're that stupid for not doing the research that plenty of others have done, pointing out that from George Washington with the Barbary pirates on, US presidents have negotiated with people at the edge of "terrorism" or beyond, and having this ammo ready to fire.

Those of you who read me regularly know I rarely use four-letter words. But, when he's not spying on us or neoliberally kowtowing to big business, the man, per Teddy Roosevelt, has the backbone of a chocolate eclair combined with, I think, some quasi-New Agey mush in his brains.

#Spurs win Game 1, with good signs for #NBAFinals

Good sign No. 1? That's the health of Tony Parker and his ankle injury. If not 100 percent, he surely looked 85 percent. And, with an extra day of rest again until Sunday's game 2, should remain OK.

Related to that, the Spurs depth at the point helped. Patty Mills looked good and Marco Belinelli did nothing embarrassing, other than a couple of turnovers.

Good sign No. 2? The Spurs won despite all those turnovers. Even with the heat problems, you can't blame a slippery ball. Those third quarter turnovers, half of them were on dumb passing decisions. Any that were related to a slippery ball, from trying to do too much in traffic? It's called making adjustments.

So, let's call that semi-bad sign No. 1. The Spurs were forcing a lot of stuff last night. They know better, or should.

Good sign No. 3? To quote Charles Barkley? Mannnnuuuuuuu! Manu Ginobili was a sparkplug in the first quarter and had a great all-around game. If he's bringing that to the Finals, it's all Spurs.

Good sign No. 4? The Spurs depth showing up in the heat. In contrast to LeBron James cramping up, the Spurs were able to keep a lot of players fresh. Above all, Tim Duncan was able to stay on the bench well into the fourth quarter because Tiago Splitter suddenly realized he can score.

Other good signs for San Antonio? One is that, with Mario Chalmers and his funk, if it continues PG advantage is huge. Another is that they did all of this with little offense from Kawhi Leonard; if he gets untracked, that's all the more.

On the Heat side, Ray Allen still looks dangerous. Rashard Lewis had a cameo of his old self again, but doesn't seem to be a consistent threat, and Chris Bosh was OK overall, but with a questionable attempt or two of a non-corner 3; that's not his shot. Shane Battier got a few minutes off the bench, but contributed little.

Notice that I didn't mention Dwyane Wade until now? He was solid, like most of this year's playoffs and unlike last year's Finals. However, he was unable to take over the game when LBJ went out. If James is down at all in Game 2, Wade's the key to the game. 

And, what will LBJ's condition be? I heard Shannon Sharpe say on ESPN Radio that he thinks the cramps could carry over. And, Grantland, as part of breaking down Game 1, talks about "Crampgate."

So, there we go. Overall, signs look good for the Spurs, other than the mass of turnovers. Count on Gregg Popovich to beat that into the ground. 

But, don't get too confident too easily. Duncan isn't going 9-10 every night. Ginobili, while he hopefully won't revert to last year's Finals, won't always be as good as Game 1. Yes, Boris Diaw, like Leonard, didn't score much, but he did a number of other things very well that he might not do quite so well night in and night out.

Finally, I thought LBJ played "chippy" on the physicality long before almost getting a flagrant foul call. If Jeff Van Gundy thinks Splitter was flopping there, he can eat my shorts. Related to that, it's long been my opinion that LBJ plays at times like a junior Shaq, especially on dropping his shoulder and throwing it.

Related to that, that's why I don't like three-person broadcast booths in basketball. It's hard enough to add a third voice in baseball or football; basketball's pace just doesn't provide room.

ABC should can SVG, and move Mark Jackson back out. Maybe get a replacement for Breen at play by play, too. Make Jalen Rose the color guy; bring him out from the studio and Bill Simmons' shackles.

The LA newspaper scene, especially the Aaron Kushner part, is imploding

And, imploding big-time, in the case of Kushner, owner of the remnants of Freedom Communications and his flagship paper, the Orange County Register.

Earlier this year, Kushner expanded into L.A. with his Los Angeles Register, first of all. He also bought the Riverside Times out in Riverside County, and announced a stand-alone Long Beach Register. The first and third decisions being despite L.A. already having both the Times and Daily News and Long Beach also already having a daily.

Problem? It's become more and more apparent that the emperor has no clothes, and, despite some ethically dubious attempts to rake for cash, also has no money, for all of this.

Ken Doctor notes how the Kushner yellow flags have now become red. The Long Beach rollout cut back to weekly. Community sections cut back in the OC Register. And, the biggies? Mandatory two-week furloughs, plus late vendor payments.  

Near the end of that piece, Doctor speculates how wide-open this could leave the LA newspaper field:
Finally, the wider area  — the Register's playbox of southern California — emerges as ground zero in whatever comes next for metro newspapering. Tribune is about to spin off Tribune Publishing and its L.A. Times; its eventual fate and ownership is unknown. The Los Angeles News Group, soon to be up for sale by Digital First Media, faces its own uncertainties. And now we have to wonder what the next turn of the Register will be.
As I Tweeted Doctor, I wouldn't be surprised if, in five years, L.A. is without a daily newspaper, just like it's without NFL teams.

Here's why.

First, large chunks of the area don't seem to miss either the NFL or print newspapers.

Second, in LA itself, the major "industry" is entertainment. Perez Hilton, TMZ, etc., have been cuting into that for years, hurting the Times. The Daily News was always more of a "poaching" operation, and since it's heyday, the Southland's primary growth has been to the east, not the northwest.

As for the parents? The Times' parent's parent, "digital first" media company Digital First Media has apparently hit the end of the road.

Not only has it killed off a centralized "content" production hub (I refuse to call it a syndicated news bureau), but it is reportedly looking to sell off its entire set of newspaper holdings. Despite the naive love for print by the likes of Warren Buffett, I don't doubt that post-Great Recession newspaper prices have peaked for anybody buying them as a media business, rather than a rich man's playtoy.

It looks like DFM is swinging the ax hard, a possible pre-sale slashing, if it's ending the "Faith" section of the paper in the capital of Mormonism. And, doing a giveaway renegotiation of the JOA agreement in Salt Lake City.

So, like when Freedom was broken up a couple of years ago, there will probably be some regional sales.

The L.A. Times is part of the Tribune Company, which is splitting into print and non-print divisions. Doctor questions the debt level that's being dumped on the print division. Now, it's a split, not a sale, but most of that debt will be owned to the non-print half of the split, and a fair chunk will be due immediately. In addition, the non-print division will keep key office space and charge newspapers rent. Obviously, one way to make sure that debt gets serviced and other things get paid is ... cut staff.

Given that the Trib Co cut 1,500 print division jobs, total, in the previous two years, there's not slack in the system right now. Many more cuts, and the L.A. Times will look like ... the L.A. Daily News.

Sounded like dominoes all lining up for Kushner, right? I'm sure that, even discounting the PR smiley faces his privately owned company puts out, he thought so a few months ago.

Meanwhile, yet other news could make him greedier yet. Per Doctor's piece, blatantly and thuggishly conservative and boosterish rah-rah San Diego businessman Doug Manchester, owner of the old Union-Tribune, also wants to sell.

But, whatever Kushner thought, let alone told the public, a few months ago, the truth was already a bit different then, though not as bad as now.

Earlier this year, Doctor noted Kushner's lack of consistency in hiring and firing, and despite all his self-ballyhooing, the seeming lack of a consistent vision. He also noted that, despite trends being trends, and continuing for a decade-plus now, he was continuing to invest in print to the neglect of digital.

And, now, those money woes. On those, I'm willing to go even further than Doctor. Rather than a vision of print newspaper expansion, or just that, I wonder if Kushner's been running something that, if not a Ponzi scheme, is at least the financial equivalent of a three-rail bank shot. Deaden one rail, or pull one domino out of the string, and he's in trouble with his whole bigger picture. (Update, June 11: Ryan Chittum of CJR has more on Kushner's current woes.)

Picture L.A. with three roughly equal papers, all in a war and fighting over diminishing scraps of print ad money. Picture Kushner also overextending with a San Diego edition. Picture him thinking about expanding Riverside into San Bernardino. (Per that link above, all of this is quite possible, with yet another zig, then another zag. This long profile of Kushner from the alt-weekly OCWeekly at the time he took over the Register ads more detail.)

Then picture him facing a debt call in 3-4 years and his own bankruptcy, then getting reverse-vultured. Soon enough, one of the three L.A. papers will go Daily Mail in a bid for cheap webclicks. Or the Kochs, as feared more than reputably rumored, will buy the Times on a fire sale. Or, a nutjob with media experience, Phil Anschutz, will do that.

So depending on what gets sold (or spun off) when, for how much, and with how much debt load to the new owners, the print media world in the Southland could see a new race to the bottom.

And, that race to the bottom, in 10 years if not 5, ending with no print daily paper in L.A.

The big issue is that, as Michael Wolff notes, we still haven't figured out how (with select exceptions) to make the online model pay. I've blogged before that the Net is exactly the opposite of print in this way. Because space for stories was limited, it made the "information" of ads pricey, to quote the second paragraph of Stewart Brand's famous saying — one that Gnu Media gurus routinely ignore. Wolff adds elsewhere that advertisers have figured out that Net traffic numbers aren't real, either, which is why click-per-impression rates continue to drop. (Yet more from Wolff here.)

On the Net? Because story/photo/video/space is limited only by server size, and every daily paper with a website, plus top blogs and news aggregators, post wire service stories, ad "information" is almost free, even if it doesn't "want" to be so.

June 05, 2014

Unbelievable Scott Boras, more unbelievable Jon Heyman, on Kendrys Morales

CBS Sports' Jon Heyman has long been accused of being little more than a mouthpiece for baseball überagent Scott Boras. (It's OK if you spell that with an extra "s" at the end, by the way.)

The saga of former Seattle Mariner first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales is proof positive of that, both being a mouthpiece and as such, being unbelievable, at least until corroborated by another scribe.

Heyman claims the Yankees, Brewers and Mariners are all likely candidates to sign him. 

First, scratch the Mariners. Since they had him last year, they wouldn't have lost a draft pick in compensation to sign him again. The only way we shouldn't scratch the Mariners is if Borass suddenly caved in on his asking price, and that's highly unlikely. It's also unlikely that the M's caved that much out of nowhere, either.

Second, scratch the Yankees, even more than Heyman partially does. Carlos Beltran is back in the lineup.

Third, scratch the Brewers. They're an NL team, so they can't hide his fielding problems at DH. Besides, Aramis Ramirez is back off the DL, which means that Mark Reynolds can play just 1B, where he's clearly better than Lyle Overbay.

Heyman then indicates possible interest from the Rangers. Well, scratch them since Alexi Ogando has joined the mounting injury travails, and like Prince Fielder, whom Morales would replace, is out for the year, or at least possibly so. (Update, June 7: The Boras/Heyman duo have apparently suckered Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, with his "unnamed sources," to drink this Kool-Aid.)

He then talks about a "mystery team." First, this sounds just like a Borass PR line.

(Update: June 7: Surprisingly, there was a "mystery team." Actually, terms I would prefer, as politely noted in my new blog post, would be "head-scratching team" or "WTF team." The Twins DID drink the Kool-Aid.)

Second, given Heyman's one bit of absolute truth in his piece, that Morales is an AL-first player because of fielding limitations, beyond the already-scratched M's, Yankees and Rangers, I can scratch Toronto (no need with Edwin Encarnacion at 1B and Adam Lind at DH), Baltimore (no need with Chris Davis 1B/Nelson Cruz DH), Boston Mike Napoli/David Ortiz), Tigers (Miguel Cabrera/Victor Martinez); Angels (no need with Albert Pujols at 1B and Josh Hamilton back off DL), and the White Sox, with Jose Abreu back off the DL.

Other teams? Rays are out of it. Royals and Twins are price-tag challenged. That's pretty true for the A's, too. Astros are that, plus out of it. And, that covers the AL.

So, Mr. Heyman, at least in the AL, there's NO "mystery team." Period and end of story.

IF ... If #GregAbbott is for education ...

Why does he hate paying for it?

After talking about nonsense like cost-benefit analysis to expand preschools, we're getting more proof that that's exactly his attitude.

He's now filed a motion asking for District Judge John Dietz, the judge overseeing the school finance reform lawsuit, to recuse himself.

Why? Our Dr. Strangelove attorney general says Dietz is biased.

Actually, what seems at much at stake beyond Strangelove being a skinflint is that Abbott is trying to stall, so that no final ruling, after appeals, will come until after the November election. He can then blame Rick Perry or whatever, and despite gubernatorial challenger Wendy Davis' call to stop defending the state in the case, keep defending while denying responsibility.

Here's where we're at now:
Dietz has not issued any further response to the claim beyond declining to step aside. The matter will be decided by San Antonio Judge David Peeples, who told The Texas Tribune he will likely schedule a hearing for two weeks from now.

Assuming Abbott loses (the Trib didn't cite any content from any emails AG Strangelove claims show bias), look for him to appeal that.
Abbott ... argues that the correspondence suggests "the judge is coaching the plaintiffs’ counsel in order to improve their case." The emails have not been made public.
Sure he does, sure Dietz does.

Meanwhile, there's no explicit Abbott fingerprints, but it's "interesting" that just a week after ruling that the purchase information about the state's death penalty drugs was off-limits to Public Information Act queries, that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is now tightening media access to executions.

DFM could stand for Dead Fricking Media (updated)

"Digital first" media company Digital First Media has apparently hit the end of the road.

Not only has it killed off a centralized "content" production hub (I refuse to call it a syndicated news bureau), but it is reportedly looking to sell off its entire set of newspaper holdings.

In case you're wondering what all that involves, since DFM was created when self-alleged digital guru John Paton and his Journal Register Company, having had its own bout with bankruptcy, acquired the bankruptcy ashes of MediaNews before the new entity wound up with its own second swim in the bankruptcy tank, it involves a lot, especially if you're a California newspaper reader. And, in the Southland, with a couple of bank shots elsewhere, it will involve even more. (More on that below.)

The old JRC owned the New Haven (Conn.) Register as its flagship, and some smaller daily and non-daily papers, mainly in the Great Lakes area. MediaNews is, or was, a newspaper powerhouse, owning (per Wiki) the Denver Post, L.A. Daily News, San Bernardino Sun, San Jose Mercury News, a number of coastal California dailies a whole group of smaller papers in the East Bay area of California and more.

As the link above notes, the merged companies, after their joint 2012 bankruptcy swim, came under the primary ownership of Alden Capital, which apparently, like other hedge-fund type financier groups, wants its money, or cents on its dollar, sooner rather than later. So, it's sale time.

Not just sale time, but perhaps fire sale time. As ad declines continue, and even Saint Warren of Buffett sells one or two of the smaller papers he bought from Media General not too long ago, there's no way the media acquisitions world can swallow this whole python in one sale.

(Update, April 14: It looks like DFM is swinging the ax hard, a possible pre-sale slashing, if it's ending the "Faith" section of the paper in the capital of Mormonism.)

So, like when Freedom was broken up a couple of years ago, there will probably be some regional sales.

That led to the new (at least on paper and PR) ascendancy of the Orange County Register, under new owner Aaron Kushner.

Ken Doctor, starting with his main piece on the DFM implosion, links to other stories that explain the SoCal bank shots.

Kushner is expanding into L.A. with his Los Angeles Register, first of all. If the L.A. Daily News is going on the sale block, well, one way to make its financials look shinier is to cut yet more staff. Ditto at the San Bernardino Sun; given that Kushner also owns the Riverside paper and is trying to broaden its regional coverage and distribution, his eyes are surely getting wider.

And, that's not all that's at stake. 

The L.A. Times is part of the Tribune Company, which is splitting into print and non-print divisions. Doctor questions the debt level that's being dumped on the print division. Now, it's a split, not a sale, but most of that debt will be owned to the non-print half of the split, and a fair chunk will be due immediately. In addition, the non-print division will keep key office space and charge newspapers rent. Obviously, one way to make sure that debt gets serviced and other things get paid is ... cut staff.

Given that the Trib Co cut 1,500 print division jobs, total, in the previous two years, there's not slack in the system right now. Many more cuts, and the L.A. Times will look like ... the L.A. Daily News.

Sounds like dominoes all lining up for Kushner, right? 

Meanwhile, yet other news could make him greedier yet. Per Doctor's piece, blatantly and thuggishly San Diego businessman Doug Manchester, owner of the old Union-Tribune, also wants to sell.

So, Kushner could be hitting the jackpot, eh?

Uhh, maybe not. Per that expansion link:
(S)ome analysts have been skeptical over whether Freedom will be able to keep up with the high costs of expansion. 

Gabriel Kahn, a professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, told KPCC that it's expensive to launch papers in new communities and wondered how much cash Kushner has left.

"It reminds you of baker trying to roll out a pie crust and push it farther and farther. Eventually you run out of dough," Kahn told KPCC in February.
It's a good question, considering he just paid to buy the Riverside paper from Belo and is now talking about an expansion into Palm Springs. Add in that he's done a fair amount of his own spinning about his expansion so far and things could get worse in L.A. for newspapers.

Also of concern is his lack of consistency in hiring and firing, and despite all his self-ballyhooing, the seeming lack of a consistent vision.

Update, June 5, 2014: Ken Doctor notes how the Kushner yellow flags have now become red. The Long Beach rollout cut back to weekly. Community sections cut back in the OC. And, the biggies? Mandatory two-week furloughs, plus late vendor payments.

Picture L.A. with three roughly equal papers, all in a war and fighting over diminishing scraps of print ad money. Picture Kushner also overextending with a San Diego edition. Picture him thinking about expanding Riverside into San Bernardino. (Per that link above, all of this is quite possible.)

Then picture him facing a debt call in 3-4 years and his own bankruptcy, then getting reverse-vultured. Soon enough, one of the three L.A. papers will go Daily Mail in a bid for cheap webclicks. Or the Kochs, as feared more than reputably rumored, will buy the Times on a fire sale. Or, a nutjob with media experience, Phil Anschutz, will do that. Per the update immediately above, all of these financial woes for Kushner are very possible indeed.

So depending on what gets sold (or spun off) when, for how much, and with how much debt load to the new owners, the print media world in the Southland could see a new race to the bottom.

It won't be vastly better in the Bay Area; Anschutz, already there with the San Francisco Examiner, might try to swoop up some of the properties there. His other papers are, to the  degree analysts can tell, all money losers, but he doesn't really care.

The big issue is that, as Michael Wolff notes, we still haven't figured out how (with select exceptions) to make the online model pay. I've blogged before that the Net is exactly the opposite of print in this way. Because space for stories was limited, it made the "information" of ads pricey, to quote the second paragraph of Stewart Brand's famous saying — one that Gnu Media gurus routinely ignore. Wolff adds elsewhere that advertisers have figured out that Net traffic numbers aren't real, either, which is why click-per-impression rates continue to drop. (Yet more from Wolff here.)

On the Net? Because story/photo/video/space is limited only by server size, and every daily paper with a website, plus top blogs and news aggregators, post wire service stories, ad "information" is almost free, even if it doesn't "want" to be so.

===

Other media "fails" continue. I just saw that the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette is offering online ads to community papers with a 50-50 sales split via a network it's created. And, that would be a newspaper that, on its website, has nary an ad above the web-fold level. It is, I guess, paywalled with a meter or something, I guess, as it offers digital subscriptions, though I see no "first of 10 free stories for the month" Javascript screen when I click on an individual story link. And, I clicked at least 10 locally-generated stories and columns and still got no paywall warning.

Maybe the PPG is just arrogant enough, or dumb enough, to hope that people will pay $9.95 a month for something that they can get for free, at a site that has a fairly bland design on local stories and bland-to-clunky on wire stuff, which has a little bit different page design. I mean, the home page doesn't even have a slider of the top 5 or so stories.

It's been a good month or so for newspaper industry stupidities in general.

And, speaking of online media fails? Let's add the New York Times' "Premier" to that, maybe?

People should read this piece by Jack Shafer. Shafer gives a good smackdown to the NYT's "Premier" premium website in specific, and to the concept of "premium" newspaper websites in general. Folks in Dallas, Boston, and likely San Fran, who think they can "sell" a premium website while keeping a totally free, totally unpaywalled basic one, should take note. But almost surely won't. 

Railroads take a #security page from government playbooks on #Bakken oil

Ironically, it's to working around the federal government.

Per this story out of Washington state, BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railroad, the nation's two biggies, of course, are asking to be allowed not to comply with a federal Department of Transportation emergency order. This order:
(R)equir(es) railroads by Friday to notify state officials about the volume, frequency and county-by-county routes of trains carrying large Bakken crude oil shipments.
As noted, DOT came up with the idea after a railroad tank car fire here in the US earlier this year, and the horrific collision and fire with dozens of deaths in Lac-Megantic, Quebec last year.

The railroads' response? This:
BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railroad last Friday asked the state to limit the “security sensitive” information to emergency planning and response groups.
You know, because knowing exactly, to the nanosecond, when a train will be in a certain county and exactly whether it has 31, rather than 36, oil cars is going to incredibly increase the odds of a terrorist attack when 31 oil cars will burn and explode just about as much as 36 and railroad timetables can be figured out closely enough just by making a few days of observations.

First, the state of Washington is right. This is public information and I hope it stands its ground.

Second, states that have caved in should be ashamed.

Third, DOT, and its regulatory cousin, the National Transportation Safety Board, should be ashamed. It still refuses to require, rather than request, railroads to upgrade from the DOT-111 tank cars known to be unsafe.

Fourth, railroad companies should be ashamed for refusing to do the voluntary upgrade.

Fifth, railroads ought to be ashamed for their deliberate mislabeling of the type of oil in said tank cars, which added to the intensity of some of those fires:
(Canadian) investigators found that the oil (at Lac-Megantic) had been mislabeled by the railroad as regular crude. It was far too dangerous to be transported in the puncture-prone DOT-111 cars used. (bangordailynews.com) Now Albany has become the new oil train hub and the derailment here involved the same type of tanker cars.
Even with safer tankers, emergency workers AND the general public have the right to know that a particular type of oil is coming through their town.

See, with the expected growth in Bakken transport by rail through Washington state — and, who knows, maybe some Alberta tar sands stuff, too, eh? —BNSF and Union Pacific are actually afraid of tar sands protesters above all else, I suspect.

June 04, 2014

Comment moderation vs the #SJW Internet nanny state at #MLBTradeRumors

I don't care for personally abusive comments on the Internet. I can understand the use of moderation, whether done by humans, or by systems, where certain words automatically lead to a comment being put on hold for review.

But, MLBTradeRumors has gone too far.

In a recent thread about trading for David Price, as I blogged about here, I got into a back and forth with a couple of commenters, especially one "Dave."  The most "abusive" thing I said was when he insisted that Oscar Taveras would play center field when Matt Adams came back off the DL, was this:
He will NOT and Mozeliak has already said so. He's even used the phrase "junior GMs" for people who think Taveras is a CF.
I didn't mention "Dave" by name, nor did I even use the word "you." If that's abusive, MLBTradeRumors can eat my shorts. And, per this story from the Post-Dispatch, as I note in my blogging about Taveras' call-up, Mo's used that phrase a number of times.

So, again, if quoting what a major-league general manager has said about ignorant fans is "abusive," MLBTradeRumors can eat my shorts.

I know it prevents people from posting links to their blog there. The only other possible violation of its TOU is that I mentioned, somewhere in the thread that "on my blog" I had said more about this.

If that's a violation of that part of its TOU, MLBTradeRumors can eat my shorts twice on Sunday.

I got no email specifying why I was blocked. Their link just goes to a Disqus webpage with generic information about Disqus posts at any website being blocked or deleted. And MLBTradeRumor's "contact" page has two reasons for contacting them; neither is about commenting questions.

So, I Tweeted its account; I later used their comment form, even though it's not built for comments like this at all. We'll see if I get any response.

If it's something worse than the above, fine. Tell me what it is. But, to the best of my knowledge, those are the two "worst" things I did.

And, if you're not going to tell me why I'm blocked, then "fine" in scare quotes. In that case, I guess my final observation, per the first hashtag, of the "block bot" Twitter add-on that social justice warriors within the Gnu Atheism movement use, as I discussed last fall.

Oh, well, if I am blocked, it saves me wasting quite so much time there. (That's as being opposed to wasting time elsewhere online.)

#Tigers — is this season a bit iffy in Detroit?

Yes, Miggy Cabrera has bounced back nicely from a slow start to the season.

Yes, the team obviously made the right move in trading Prince Fielder for Joe Nathan, and arguably in trading for Robbie Ray.

However, a couple of darker clouds on the horizon mean that not everything baseball is hitting on all cylinders in the Motor City. 

First, it looks like $10M a year on free-agent closer Joe Nathan may have been misspent money.

Let's say the Tigers, even though last year's ALCS made the team worried about its bullpen, had found out a way to spend, say, just $6M for a closer, if the team felt it had to dip into the free agent market.

Then, maybe, with the extra $4M and a few other dinero, Dave Dombrowski could have beat the Red Sox to the punch and signed Stephen Drew for that prorated $10M. Or, Dombrowski could have gambled that a change of location was all Joba Chamberlain needed to close successfully and had a full $10M of money.

Because, since Jose Iglesias is looking like he'll be out the full year, the Kitties now have no real options at short. I mean, Andrew Romine and Danny Worth together aren't the answer. Combine their OPS+ ratings and they're at 52. Both are below the Pete Kozma line, described here.

They're lucky they're in what's overall a fairly weak division. The AL Central is a -50 on run differential so far this year. For comparison, the AL East is-36, the AL West is +101, the NL East is +6, the NL Central is -13 and the NL West is -5.

And, all that about weak division said, the White Sox just got Jose Abreu back. The Tigers can't be sleeping on anything.

#Cardinals a suitor for David Price? Let's start some talk with the #Rays (updated)

I first blogged during spring training about the idea of the St. Louis Cardinals making a deal to land Tampa's lefty ace, David Price. I'm going to revive and update that now, since we now see more of where the Cardinals are at, knowing that the Rays are out of the AL East running, and knowing what the Cards look like in the minors.

Sidebar: Ken Rosenthal has a great new notes column. But, Ken, no thanks on James Shields, unless the trade price is cheap, since he's a free agent after this year. And, he's a few years older than Price, too. I'd offer the Royals no more than 50 cents on the trade dollar as compared to Price.

With Price? If the Cardinals can't sign Price to an Adam Wainwright-level extension (maybe $1M or so a year more, if Waino gets the same), since he's not a free agent until after 2015, the team can always make the qualifying offer and get the draft choice back.

The Cards' offer back starts with what I suggested in March. Either Lance Lynn or Shelby Miller, plus an outfielder not named Oscar Taveras. (I'd offer Jon Jay first, Peter Bourjos second, I think, then Stephen Piscotty third. If Tampa asks about Randal Grichuk, then I think a bit more.) I'd throw in Greg Garcia, as Tampa can use him to replace Ben Zobrist, whom I assume they'll not resign after this year.  I really think that he could be key to fueling a deal. (As I blogged here, the increasing use of infield defensive shifts by other teams, catching up with the pioneering Rays, probably explains why the defensive rating of Zobrist, and other Rays infielders, has declined this year, or at least, it is a serious part of such an explanation.) Given where Tampa is at on contracts and age and costs at both corner OF spots and 1B, I don't see them wanting Allen Craig.

I would consider Alexander Reyes as a part of any deal. I would NOT consider Marco Gonzales. He's moved a lot further up the ranks, shown a lot more actuality, not just potential, at least at his various minors levels, and, he's a lefty. As for minors position players, Aledmys Diaz, like Gonzales, is not for sale on this deal.

If a back-of-rotation majors pitcher, like a Joe Kelly or Tyler Lyons, further lubricates such a trade, OK.

Now, from a Cards' point of view, if it's either Lynn or Miller, which do you give up? Miller's got more upside touting, but, he's regressed from last year. At the same time, he's further away from arbitration, which makes him more appealing to the Rays.

Regular readers here know I'm no Lynn fan, but, if keeping him for another year is part of the price of Price, then that's what it is, and I'm less of an anti-fan than I was a year ago.

Oh, and Cards fans? Per discussion I'm running into on MLB Trade Rumors, I hope you're not acting like fans of other teams who follow prospects in general, and acting like the "junior general managers" that John Mozeliak has called out, and insisting that Taveras is a center fielder. 

Update, June 23: With not one but two Cards pitchers (above and beyond Joe Kelly) now moved to the DL, I think Price trade talks by the Cards will be on hold a bit, especially if Tampa wants two pitchers back in the deal. 

At the same time, per my first comment to Tyler in comments, Price IS getting moved. And, per the teams listed by a local columnist, it's, relatively speaking, a buyer's market, not a seller's one.
It has become increasingly obvious that the Rays likely — if not absolutely, positively — are going to trade Price over the next 51/2 weeks until the July 31 deadline. They can't afford to keep him long term. They're not going to win with him this year (the thought that they would was part of the reason he wasn't dealt over the winter). And every five days they wait to trade him reduces his value because that means one fewer start he makes for his new team.
So, there you go, Mr. Rhodes, and others who think I'm proposing a lowball offer. Just as I said, so says Marc Topkin. And, if you'll look at what he mentions as possible deals with non-Cardinal teams, you'll see that what I mentioned, especially in the second paragraph of players, where I expand beyond my initial list, is in no way a lowball offer.

In fact, let's take a look at these:
Angels: 1B C.J. Cron, 2B Alex Yarbrough
Blue Jays: RHP Aaron Sanchez, RHP Alberto Tirado
White Sox: 2B Micah Johnson, RHP Erik Johnson, RHP Chris Beck
Yankees: C Gary Sanchez, RHP Luis Severino, C Peter O'Brien
Braves: LHP Alex Wood, RHP Lucas Sims, additional pitching prospect
And, let's analyze.

Angels? A decent prospect 2B plus a just called-up 1B/DH when Rays 1B James Loney is under contract for two more full seasons and primary DH David DeJesus is signed for one more full year plus a team option.

Jays? Two prospect pitchers, one of whom, Sanchez, may, or may not, be ready for the big top in 2015, and the other who may, or may not, be ready a year later.

ChiSox? Micah Johnson is a cut below Yarbrough of the Angels system. Erik Johnson? OK in the minors, unimpressive two years straight at the big show. Beck? Still a AA prospect.

Yankees? Sanchez could be OK at catcher. Severino? Unknown quality prospect at low minors. O'Brien? Has power, but, why would you trade for two catchers? For that matter, Mr. Topkin, given the Yankees' strapped farm system, why would they trade away two catchers? Plus, the idea that the Rays would trade in-division is iffy, so just nix this one.

Braves? Alex Wood has some potential. Call him a younger Shelby Miller, or younger Lance Lynn. Lucas Sims? Low-minors prospect. If Topkin thinks the Braves would throw in a third pitcher, but he doesn't even have a name to offer, that's weak tea indeed.

None of these is better than what I suggested the Cardinals offer. If Cron is the real verschnizzle with the Angels, it's the only one in the same ballpark.

So, Mr. Rhodes, and you others who think I'm a homer, a lowballer, or baseball ignorant, both now and in a follow-up post which I will do, if you think my suggested Cardinals offer for Price is being a "homer," I suggest you get a freaking clue. Because Cards fans think my final-offer version might be an overpay.

So, again, I suggest a reality check. Or a read of the Tampa Bay Times.

Because, at least at NBC, there's a couple of you that are FAR more "homer" than any Cards fan I've met there.

And, the more time I spend at NBC, gthe 

June 01, 2014

EPA says: Get the carbon out ...

Of old power plants, that is.

The Environmental Protection Agency is announcing a plan to require 30 percent cuts in carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. The wingnuts are already up in arms about it; wonder what they're thinking about the current episode of Cosmos, in which Neal deGrasse Tyson entirely focused on the issue of global warming.

Here's the key graf:
The rule, which is expected to be final next year, will set the first national limits on carbon dioxide, the chief gas linked to global warming from the nation's power plants. They are the largest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S., accounting for about a third of the annual emissions that make the U.S. the second largest contributor to global warming on the planet.
Yes, wingnuts, I know we're No. 2 after China.

I also have known, long before Paul Krugman said so, that the World Trade Organization appears to allow carbon tariffs on imports as long as a country has a similar rate on an internal carbon tax.

Not that I think for a minute Obama is actually thinking about such a move, "free but not fair" trader that he is. But, if he were? It would be great if he'd already started US power plants down the road to being at least somewhat greener. This would give us a head start on China when implementing such a tariff.

And, this shouldn't be that hard. We're partway there already:
EPA data shows that the nation's power plants have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 13 percent since 2005, or about halfway to the goal the administration will set Monday. The agency is aiming to have about 25 percent cut by 2020.
ABC references unnamed "experts" as saying the rest could be a lot harder.

Really? Why don't we identify a few of these "experts"?

Here in Texas, because of the amount of old, dirty coal-fired plants, the emissions cuts requirements (which vary by state) are 39 percent. Hey, wingnuts, there's a simple answer. Tricky Ricky Perry likes to tout Texas' progress on wind power. Where's the similar progress on solar?

And, speaking of Tricky Ricky, he's not this stupid. He knows the regulations are about CO2, not generic "pollution":
“President Obama’s decision to impose drastic new restrictions on America’s energy industry is the most direct assault yet on the energy providers that employ thousands of Americans, and fuel both our homes and our nation’s economic growth. Americans have seen the disastrous results of federal mandates with Obamacare, and these rules will only further stifle our economy’s sluggish recovery and increase energy costs for American families. If President Obama is truly interested in an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, he would do well to look to states like Texas that have seen tremendous success at diversifying energy sources while protecting the environment from harmful pollutants.”

The air Texans breathe today is cleaner than it was in 2000, even as our population has grown by nearly 5.2 million people. Furthermore:

• Over the last 10 years, Texas has added more than twice the jobs of any other state;
• Statewide, from 2000-2012, nitrogen oxide levels from industrial sources were reduced by 62.5 percent; and
• From 2000-2012 ozone levels were reduced by 23 percent, a 12 percent greater reduction than the national average.
First, if you were really interested in positioning Texas for the future, and avoiding the possibility of Houston being partially underwater in 50 years, you'd support this move and push to ramp up solar power.

Second, as noted, this isn't about pollution in general.

Third, on ozone, congratulations. That's because Texas had a worse starting point than a lot of states.

Fourth, none of this has to do with the primarily minimum-wage, no-benefits jobs you've "created."

===

Update, June 17: It appears that, beyond nearly half the goal already being baked into the plan, there was other Team Obama EPA flim-flammery. In other words, the EPA once again removed the false teeth from its proposal. Not surprising for an agency that, even as part of "the most non-transparent administration in history," has a problem with lack of transparency.

The pope who helped Mussolini's rise to power

The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in EuropeThe Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe by David I. Kertzer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is not about the pope and the Holocaust; that's the next pope, Pius XII.

For the unfamiliar, Pius XI is the pope who signed the concordat with Mussolini which gave Vatican City official recognition by Italy and the RC state church status in Italy. In exchange, the Pope agreed to officially support the disbanding of Italy's Catholic-oriented political party and to agree for restraints on the broad social involvement of Catholic Action, a rough equivalent to a souped-up Knights of Columbus. He also agreed to give tacit support, via Italian bishops, to most specific actions of Il Duce.

The two are bound together by coming to their respective seats of power within a matter of months of one another in 1922. They're also bound together by both of them recognizing the advantages of a deal with each other.

After an early test or two, the agreement seemed strong ... until Mussolini got cozy with Hitler. Especially when he got anti-Jewish laws passed in Italy, and quoted the RC's own past history of anti-Semitism as part of support for this, they started fraying. At least from the Pope. Most Italian bishops continued to support the Duce.

Shortly before he died, Pius XI had drafted an official statement he wanted to give to bishops at a conclave. Recognizing  he might not live, he had copies prepared for distribution. The statement apparently would have sharply questioned the Vatican's relationship with Mussolini.

But, he died that night. And, the Duce got the man who became his successor, Pius XII, then the Vatican Secy of State and chamberlain to Pius XI, to round up all copies of the statement. It was never sent.

It probably would have made little difference, though Kertzer doesn't get into alternative history. The support of Catholic bishops for the Duce, plus Pius XII's rabid anti-Communism, assuming he would have been the successor if Pius XI died a month or a year later, would have seen to that.

This is part of a series of excellent books Kertzer has written about the relationship of individual popes and the papacy to Jews in Italy. Anything he writes is worth a good read.

I also learned enough new about Mussolini to reject the idea that, at least in the first decade or so of his rule, he was just a two-dimensional crude cartoon character. And, I learned enough about Victor Emanuel III to understand why Italians killed the monarchy in a 1946 plebicite.



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