Friday, February 28, 2014


The bitter joke in Sarajevo, during the war-torn 1990s was “Only the odd-numbered world wars start here.”

World War I, for sure, was triggered there -- by the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz-Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, by the Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip in 1914.  And, if you consider the spate of sectarian, tribal, ethnic and nationalist wars in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Bahrain, Mali, Ivory Coast, Somalia and Nigeria, over the past 20 years to be a kind of conglomerate World War III, think of Sarajevo. That's where the tone (and some of the strategies and tactics) was set during the devolutionary wars of the Former Yugoslavia, whose flashpoint and moral nadir was the Siege of Sarajevo.

Right now, this week, Bosnia balances on a knife-edge of temporary quiet, suspended between two global antagonisms, the old one of “national” or “ethnic” conflict (I use quotes because the claim that Serbs, Croat and Muslims in Bosnia represent separate “nations” or “ethnicities” is at best questionable if not largely bogus), and the newly-recognized world-wide fracture line, between self-sustained oligarchies of wealth, force and political power and the general populace who are sinking into poverty and desperation..

The present peaceful pause follows a week of violent and large-scale protest that burned significant government headquarters in Bosnia’s 4 largest cities: Sarajevo, Tuzla, Zenica and Mostar. 

Caroline Hopper, a veteran human rights worker in the Balkans, calls the demonstrations “the largest anti-government protests since the war; unprecedented, not only in size, but also in their very nature.” 

But, you may be surprised to hear, she adds,”These protests offer a real sense of optimism that is so uncommon for the suffering state.

“Masses have organized themselves behind universal grievances regarding severe economic woes that are the fault of both individual politicians as well as the system of government as a whole. Resolutely non-ethnic, these protests have crossed both social and physical boundaries, occurring in both the [Bosnian-Croat] Federation and in Republika Srpska, and in rural and urban areas alike. Fires lit around the country should not be seen as signals of pending warfare, but if anything, as an embodiment of the universal rejection of embedded nationalism, and with it stagnation, corruption, and nepotism.

In Hopper’s judgment, frequently repeated by scholars in Europe and America, and citizens across Bosnia, (and yes, asserted previously in my blogs) the failures, the “stagnation, corruption, and nepotism,” are direct consequences of American diplomatic irresponsibility, or as the one time UN High Commissioner in Sarajevo, Miroslav Lajcak has asserted, Bosnia is “a prisoner of Dayton.” 

The 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, also known as the Dayton Agreement, driven principally by the American diplomat Richard Holbrooke, ended an almost 4 year war of savage ferocity (estimates range between 100,000 and 200,000 Bosnian civilians were killed, at least twice as many driven into exile). 

Unfortunately, it did so, by handing power back to the very armed hyper-nationalists  guilty of most of the mass murders.  Dayton set in place a “temporary” governmental structure that ratified and institutionalized rivalries exploited and magnified by the crooked politicians and criminal mafias who misled and exploited Bosnia’s Serb, Croat and Muslim minorities (the Muslims, now called Bosniaks, make up an estimated 40% of the population). 

Then, with equally uncaring cynicism, the political leaders of the US and Europe looked the other way as the grafters and thugs harrowed the whole society.

As Bosnian scholars Aleksandar Hemon and Jasmin Mujanovic wrote in the NY Times:  

“[Dayton] effectively awarded to the cleansers their ethnically cleansed territories, and was practically designed to prevent the state it defined from functioning as a civic society.

“In a country smaller than West Virginia and with a population the size of Oregon’s, there exist 142 municipalities, two highly autonomous entities, 10 cantons, a special district, a national government and an internationally appointed high representative to oversee them all. It amounts to approximately 180 ministers, 600 legislators and an army of about 70,000 bureaucrats.”

This infestation of faux-governors has had one over-arching product: impunity for the political-criminal elite.  

“What the war didn’t destroy,” they wrote, “has been wrecked by Mafioso capitalism, practiced with equal zeal across ethnicities, in which private initiative is expressed in the form of corruption and cronyism. The political system’s primary function is allowing wealth to be amassed by the leaders of political parties, fully united, despite their presumed cultural and ideological differences, in their commitment to impoverish the people they lead.”

Finally, it seems, the Bosnian people have had enough.

Most important, the protests seem to include representatives of all the Bosnian peoples, Serbs, Croats, Muslims, Roma, and Jews protesting, not as oppressed and mutually hate-filled minorities, but as an oppressed majority whose hatred is focused not on ethnic groups, but corrupt government officials, violent paramilitary gangs and their beneficiaries, a cohort of super-rich oligarchs.

Predictably, the progenitors of minority abuses are the first to warn that the protests aimed at them are actually signs of ethnic pandemonium.  Equally predictably, they have been the first to call on their European and American enablers to intervene.

Council on Foreign Relations researcher Amelia M. Wolf calls out Bosnian police director Himzo Selimovic.

If protests turn violent again, Wulf quotes Selimovic as saying, “The international community and the EU should consider [deploying] international military forces in Bosnia.”

Then she adds, “Selimovic resigned shortly thereafter. [He] represents the Directorate for Coordination of Police Bodies, one of the institutions against which Bosnians are protesting. An estimated 62 percent of Bosnians believe the police, including Selimovic’s agency, are corrupt or extremely corrupt."

Polls show that 98% of Bosnians – that’s right, 98% -- believe corruption is a serious problem, reports Wulf, and 70% say the government has failed to control it.  The man presently on top of this despised regime Prime Minister Vjekoslav Bevanda told Reuters he’s not worried.

The recent unrest in Bosnia is a local "fire," he told Euro-bankers he was begging for more money to misspend.  "We will be able to extinguish it very quickly."  

Maybe not.  
Hemon and Mujanovic report, “The Bosnian people have found a voice. In Tuzla, after the initial chaos and police violence, the protesters forced the resignations of the cantonal prime minister. They formed a plenum — an open parliament of citizens where everyone is welcome, and which has by now gone through a number of sessions. They formulated demands, including establishing a cantonal government of non-party-affiliated experts and a thorough investigation of the privatization process. In Sarajevo, the first plenum had to be rescheduled when the organizers were overwhelmed by the turnout.

Or as Alida Vracic, executive director of the Think Tank Populari in Sarajevo told USA Today, "The political elite feels fear and is insecure about its position for the first time in 20 years.”

“For the first time,” Vracic said, “people see that they have to take power in their hands.”
This is a perception that is also alive (and under monumental challenge) in other places around the world where government and all its political elements have failed the people: Ukraine, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Venezuela, even (if less violently) in Scotland. 

As the Bosnian scholar Igor Stiks wrote in The Guardian:

 “This is not a rebellion of discriminated and ghettoized groups, territorially contained on the outskirts of big cities. It is a rebellion of the whole population that has been subjected to economic impoverishment, social devastation and political destitution.”

The Nobel prize winning Bosnian novelist Ivo Andric, from my years in the area, still the most authoritative source on Bosnian culture, called his homeland, “the land of endless hatreds.” But he also showed in his novels what history has shown, that for every outburst of communal killing and alienation, there are intervening decades when all factions live together civilly.  

Notwithstanding expectable attempts by the political and community “leaders” who have benefited from the dissonance to push their peoples to mindless conflict again, there are signs that many people remember that history, and embrace their capability to live as a single Bosnian nation.

Some people see similar signs in Ukraine, that persistent, consistent political failure and exploitation of historic fault lines have robbed both politicians and fractional populisms of all credibility and allegiance, driving once disparate groups together in a campaign for real democratic, rule of law reform.

Please, God, let it be so.

In the new world of instant, ubiquitous global communication confronting rampant impunity, injustice and inequality, people do find themselves with lots of new, and newly collective power in their hands.  Using it against their political and economic oppressors relentlessly as well as civilly may shift the balance of yet another global struggle.  Call it World War IV (the better one): of common humanity against greed and exploitation.   

Friday, February 21, 2014


My friend Garrick Utley died this week.  He was 74.  The cause was prostate cancer.

Garrick was the very model of a television journalist.

First, his curiosity knew no bounds.  He was as passionate about music and art as about politics and economics.

He was always well prepared.  His formal education at Westtown School and Carleton College supplemented what he must have absorbed at home as the child of two respected journalists, Clifton and Frayn Garrick Utley.  He was fluent in Russian, German and French, eloquent and elegant in English.  He never stopped learning, never stopped reading, never stopped hearing, and most important to his colleagues and his students, he never stopped teaching and never stopped sharing.

Even though he was often appalled at the changes in contemporary journalism, particularly the substitution of talking heads, interminably blabbing far from the scene for working reporters at the scene, he never lost hope for news.  He taught his trade proudly and humbly to students he encouraged to ignore all invitations to despair, but to get involved and to do their reporting the right way.   

At 6 foot six, Garrick stood, literally, head and shoulders above the crowd, but his manner, like his formidable intellect, was inviting not imposing.  In his classic trench coat or blue blazer, he looked like a model foreign correspondent, but he reported like an all-terrain-vehicle.  If that meant mud on the coat or scuffs to the blazer, so be it.  He had faith in good editors and good cleaners.  He made sure you knew how much he loved his wife Gertje.

He covered more big stories in more storied places than almost anyone of his generation, but like all the best newsies, he cherished the next one, not the last, biggest or best ones.

He made time for colleagues and students, even when he knew his time was running out.

The NY Times supplied an excellent, far more complete obituary.

During his days in London for ABC News, he always kept his office door open to transient visitors.  His invitations to guest teach by Skype to his classes at SUNY Oswego were a delight.  His questions were always intelligent and focused. 

He listened superbly.

He was a great man and a good one. 

Gosh, I miss him.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


It’s a story worthy of Charles Dickens.  Time, Inc., the venerable publisher of Time, Fortune and Sports Illustrated magazines, is now an orphan, having been sold off by its parent, the media mega-moron, and placed in the hands of a perfect example of the evil step-father, Joseph A. Ripp.

The first ripples of the Ripp-tide are a pair of announcements that epitomize what is wrong with American corporate journalism, if not America itself in 2014.

Joe the Ripper’s second move was to fire about 500 people, many of them working journalists.  His first move as the orphan’s guardian had been to bring on as Time’s “content editor” Norman Pearlstine.

What wrong with that?  After all, Pearlstine had once been Time’s editor-in-chief before the utter collapse of the print magazine economy and before the poor little newsmag had been tossed into the snow.  Well, for one thing, Pearlstine’s hallmark decision as boss man at Time was to force his reporter Matt Cooper to give up his sources to prosecutors in the infamous Valeria Plame—Scooter Libby (stand in in every way but the consequences for his boss, Vice President Dick Cheney) scandal.

Short-term thinkers might salute Editor Pearlstine’s decision since it did help convict Libby and further disgrace his “shoot your friend in the face and flee” employer.  But longer-term considerations point to worry about precedents that destroy a source’s confidence that he can talk freely to a journalist without being fingered later.  This worry may seem quaint in the days of NSA surveillance of “suspect” reporters’ phone and email communications, and both the rigorous prosecutions and worse "spy-on-your-office-mates" imperatives from the Obama White House, but both at the time, and today, nearly a decade later, it seems to me to be very important.

But that’s just old grudge.  Far worse about Pearlstine’s hiring just days before 500 firings is this, as reported by the Washington Post’s media blogger Eric Wemple:

According to an SEC filing, Pearlstine has a three-year contract that pays him (not less than) $900,000 per year, with a “bonus target” of $900,000 and a $1.4 million “sign-on bonus.” He’s also eligible for a “long term incentive compensation” with an annual target of $500,000.

It is absolutely inaccurate to say Pearlstine’s hiring cost 500 less-paid people their jobs, but, rough-number estimates suggest his pay could have kept at least 7 to10 working newspeople on the job for at least the next 3 years.

Sad, but necessary, says Ripp, about the layoffs, “When we enter the public markets in a few short months, our success will depend on how investors view the momentum we are generating at the new Time Inc.”     

His logic? Investors need to see management that is ready to shed blood, if that’s what it takes, to “succeed.”  Of course, the investment in one executive that displaces 7 to 10 workers could only count as a prelude to success to people who have no investment in the quality of the product, only in the return to… them.

This is the world, of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%.  It is not the world of journalism which exists only to inform its customers.
My guess: it ain’t gonna work.

In fact, I’m gonna guess it won’t even pretend to work for 3 years, which means to get his promised money, Pearlstine’s lawyers are gonna have to squeeze Ripp’s Time lawyers to get those last millions.

As TV news proves every damned day: reporting without reporters never works, no matter how many executives scream and yell and bleed the product dry.
The title for Time’s final days: Corpse and Robbers.

Friday, February 7, 2014


Mets broadcaster Gary Cohen recalling his sometime contributing partner Ralph Kiner, as quoted by Richard Sandomir in the New York Times:  “'All I can tell you,” Cohen said, “is that there was no time that he worked a game when we didn’t think it was the best day of the week.'”

One of the great home run hitters in major league baseball history, Kiner broadcast Mets games for 50 years, from the franchise's debut in 1962.

Two wonderful moments in his broadcast career were
(1) this exchange, recounted in Bruce Weber's Times obituary,

was with Mets catcher Clarence "Choo Choo" Coleman on his inimitable post-game show Kiner's Korner:  Asked Ralph: “'What’s your wife’s name, and what’s she like?” Coleman replied, “Her name is Mrs. Coleman — and she likes me, bub.'”

(2)  Passed on by another longtime broadcast partner of Kiner's, Tim McCarver to Sandomir, occurred when Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter of Janet Leigh visited the broadcast booth.  Kiner took Jamie Lee aside and quietly said, "‘Jamie Lee, my name’s Ralph Kiner, and you were just introduced to us and I wanted to tell you that I used to date your mother.’ And she throws her arms around his neck and says, ‘Daddy!’ "
Uncharacteristically, Kiner was speechless.

Kiner, whom I met several times during my days covering the Mets for WCBS Newsradio 88, and WCBS-TV (Channel 2) in New York, was as kind, friendly, intelligent, and completely unpretentious a fellow as I ever met. 

As my good friend, the former Met outfielder Ron Swoboda, whose dedication to the game had made him a perpetual Kiner favorite said, "Kiner was a gem of a guy whose brain was as sharp as the stories he told.  He knew where all the bodies were buried, which made the stories he told off-camera even better." 

I wish I had heard some.

Kiner's passing, at 91, precedes by just a few days the arrival of pitchers and catchers at baseball training camps in Florida and Arizona.  Folks in Heaven are delighted that Kiner's Korner, filled with Ralph's insights into the first season since 1946 that will start without him, has risen their way.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


I never took economics, but even I know there are 2 basics to most markets, including the labor market: supply and demand.

I was, for a few years, quite active in AFTRA, the broadcasters’ union, serving on the NY Local Board, and as official shop steward or unofficial “point man” on labor issues at 2 radio stations and one TV news operations.  This gave me a fine appreciation of how that worked in labor negotiations:  the people who supplied the labor might push up the price of a job, but those who chose to demand controlled how many jobs were available.

Someone please tell the NY Times.

Health Care Law Projected to Cut the Labor Force”

That’s how the Times headlined its online report on a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) assessment of the effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA a.k.a. “Obamacare”) on the American workforce.

First, this is not about jobs. It’s about workers — and the choices they make.” 

Kessler then explains, -- Times editors and staff take note – how ACA affects the workforce.  “The health insurance subsidies in the law,” he says, are “a substantial benefit that decreases as people earn more money, so at a certain point, a person has to choose between earning more money or continuing to get the maximum help with health insurance payments.”

 In other words, closer to my workforce experience, Obamacare frees (admittedly at the public expense) some people to ask the one labor question whose answer they control: “Is this job worth it?”

 Even if, in the CBO’s analysis, 2.3 million people over the next 10 years say, “Hell, No!” this does not mean they will not be replaced.

 Even if some employers will reduce their full-time workforce to duck contributing to their employees’ health insurance, this does not mean their hours will not be re-claimed by someone else.

All that comes from the demand side of the ledger.  The employer will hire as many workers as he needs, and smart employers will deploy them in the most efficient manner (even if that means fewer, but full-time workers rather than the greatest use of cheaper part-timers.)

Or, as WaPo’s Kessler points out, the CBO, -- his words --, “virtually screams,” its not-hard-to-understand analysis.  “The estimated reduction stems almost entirely from a net decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply, rather than from a net drop in businesses’ demand for labor, so it will [produce neither] an increase in unemployment or underemployment.

Rather than detail for you the Times’ mentally and politically unbalanced story, take a look for yourself at the Gray Lady’s triangulation: (1) the Republicans say this and this and this (2) which we admit doesn’t really square with the facts, but (3) what the Democrats give us is drivel.

Fair enough, but how does that correct the complete misconception of the CBO report with which the Times leads and frames the story?

I would quibble with one assumption Kessler makes:  “All things being equal, in a normally functioning economy, the total demand for jobs would equal 95 percent of the supply of jobs. So … over time, the nation does end up with a slightly smaller economy.”

Sounds like a mathematical certainty; except that it does not describe the real world (any more than the allegedly shrinking official unemployment rate describes the real world of job seekers’ opportunities).  Kessler assumes that the folks who “opt out” disappear, at least in terms of their net contribution to the economy.  But some of these people will continue to work, some of these will work “off-the-books” or in what we call “the black economy.”  A few will create new enterprises which in turn produce more jobs and more returns to both the official and unofficial economies.  It is possible the shifts in the workforce attendant upon ACA's subsidies will actually benefit the economy, not shrink it.

In free market terms, the folks whose main motivation at work was to protect their health benefits should be replaced by workers with more productive motivations.  One would bet (heavily) we are talking mostly about the replacement of older workers by younger, perhaps more vigorous, perhaps more flexible, perhaps more adaptable to the ever-changing needs of the employer.  Hang me for a geezer-traitor.

If the economy is to work, we should think not in terms of two workers for the price of 1.5, but 3 times the productive output from the cost of 2.5 new workers.

In any case, here’s one final lesson for the Times from the great Fact Checker of the Post: “If someone says they decided to leave their job for personal reasons, most people would not say they ‘lost’ their jobs. They simply decided not to work.”