August 10, 2013

Advice for Jeff Bezos on how to run a newspaper

(The billionaire would do well to listen to Charles Foster Kane)

Originally published at The American Thinker blog 
By David Paulin
Media pundits have been beside themselves trying to divine what motivated’s Jeff Bezos to buy the money-losing Washington Post. (The company's newspaper division reportedly suffered an operating loss of $22.6 million for the first quarter, compared with a loss of $12.8 million in the first quarter of 2011.) The Financial Times, among others, observed that Bezos – who's worth $25 billion -- may have ulterior motives, noting:
Like the giant business trusts that dominated the first Gilded Age, a handful of technology companies, including Amazon, have amassed a degree of wealth and power barely thinkable a generation ago. Just as John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil was once demonized as an octopus extending its tentacles into every facet of the U.S. economy, their influence is set to spread as more aspects of business and personal life are drawn into the digital realm.
In Amazon’s case, that includes its influence on the retail industry and effect on local employment conditions in the many states where it is setting up warehouses. Mr. Bezos’ company is also exerting increasing power over areas of digital media, especially book publishing. And as one of the biggest participants in the cloud computing business, it has an important role in communications and computing infrastructure -- a position that is likely to make it ever more interesting in national security circles.
Like most media owners, Mr. Bezos has been quick to deny any intention of using his new status to promote his own interests. “He made it very, very clear that he had no intention of interfering, one with the integrity of the Post and two with the editorial page,” says Katharine Weymouth, the paper’s publisher.
But even if he sticks to that promise, the new proprietor of the venerable Washington Post seems certain to get a more ready hearing when he turns up in the nation’s capital.
The Financial Times and others have overlooked another possible ulterior motive, perhaps the most obvious one. It was summed up by the super-rich John Foster Kane, who in a letter to his hard-headed former guardian, the banker Walter Parks Thatcher, stated: "Sorry but I'm not interested in gold mines, oil wells, shipping or real estate. One item on your list intrigues me, the New York Inquirer, a little newspaper I understand we acquired in a foreclosure proceeding. Please don't sell it. I'm coming back to America to take charge. I think it would be fun to run a newspaper."
Forget about the theories that media pundits are putting forth over Bezo's decision. Various scenes from one of America's greatest movies, "Citizen Kane," explain why Bezos, who is said to have had a long-time interest in journalism, would want to acquire a prestigious yet money-losing newspaper. As Kane said to a dismayed Thatcher in another scene: "You're right, Mr. Thatcher, I did lose a million dollars last year. I expect to lose a million dollars this year. I expect to lose a million dollars next year. You know, Mr. Thatcher, at the rate of a million dollars a year, I'll have to close this place in... 60 years."

A Psychology Professor's Dark Past Raises Questions about the Insanity Defense

Flawed justice? The sensational murder of a Texas family reaches to the psychology department of an Illinois college


Originally published at The American Thinker 


By David Paulin

Troubling issues over the insanity defense have emerged amid stunning revelations about what became of a teenager who killed his family 46 years ago in Georgetown, Texas. The ghastly killings by self-styled peace activist James Wolcott, then a precocious fifteen year old, were virtually unheard of at the time in small-town America -- and especially in Georgetown, then a sleepy college town of nearly 5,000, located 30 miles north of Austin, the capital. 

Shocked residents defined Georgetown as what it was like before and after the gruesome killings of biology professor Gordon Wolcott, his wife Elizabeth, and their daughter Libby, according to the Georgetown Advocate, a weekly newspaper that recently published a widely cited article on what became of James Wolcott -- a youth who seemed remorseless. 

At around midnight on August 4, 1967, Wolcott got high by sniffing glue, and then went on the bloody rampage he'd planned for at least a week. He fired two bullets into his father's chest as he read in the living room. Gordon Wolcott headed the biology department at Southwestern University; and in one crime-scene photo, his hand is on a blood-spattered carpet inches from the book he was reading on the civil rights movement, James Baldwin's "The Fire Next Time." Next, the teen entered his 17-year-old sister's bedroom, shooting her in the chest and face. Libby Wolcott was an officer in her high school class and had been expected to be its valedictorian. Finally, he entered his mother's bedroom, shooting her twice in the head and once in the chest. Elizabeth Wolcott, an outgoing woman active in church activities, died in a hospital a short time later. 

What triggered Wolcott's murderous rage? Besides months of glue sniffing, he was upset that his father had ordered him to get a haircut and forbidden him from wearing anti-war buttons or attending a peace rally in Austin to protest the Vietnam War. The teenager also complained that his mother chewed her food too loudly, and he disliked his sister's "accent."   

Ultimately, Wolcott claimed his family was driving him crazy and destroying him -- and so he killed them in the belief that he was acting in "self-defense," according to depositions, court records, and interviews cited by the Advocate. A friend of Wolcott's was quoted as saying that the teen "was always talking about freedom and wished he could live so no one could bother him." A voracious reader, Wolcott had an IQ of at least 134, and his book-filled room contained titles by Ian Fleming, anti-establishment poets, and by authors of science fiction and fantasy, the Advocate noted. 

Tried as an adult, an all-male jury found Wolcott to be insane -- a paranoid schizophrenic -- and thus not guilty. He was sent to a state mental hospital, and after that he disappeared from the headlines -- until two reporters from the Advocate, Ann Marie Gardner and Cathy Payne, tracked him down in Decatur, Illinois. There, under the name James St. James, he is a popular and award-winning psychology professor at Millikin University -- a pony-tailed man who heads the Behavioral Sciences Department. He is said to be an atheist, though the tenured professor does not impose his religious views on his students. 

Interestingly, Wolcott spent only six years at Rusk State Hospital in Nacogdoches, Texas, but he wasn't confined to the hospital around the clock. Martin McClain, son of the defense lawyer who defended Wolcott, told the Advocate that "one of Wolcott's psychiatrists felt he didn't deserve to be incarcerated and invited James to live in his own home"; and so the doctor and his wife became "surrogate parents" and apparently trusted the teen around their family. 

In 1974, after six years at Rusk, Wolcott was declared to be sane. A jury then sent him free after deliberating for ten minutes. Ironically, Wolcott suddenly found himself to be a young man of means, because as his family's only surviving member, he inherited his parents' estate and began collecting a monthly stipend from his father's pension fund. 
Wolcott subsequently changed his name and went onto live an utterly normal and law-abiding life, at least from outward appearances. He earned a Ph.D in psychology from the University of Illinois in 1988 and then joined Millikin's faculty. And he kept his dark past a secret until Gardner and Payne showed up. 

Meeting St. James at a popular eatery near Millikin, Gardner initially claimed she wanted to talk about psychology, a benign bit of journalistic deceit intended to draw him out. St. James, she wrote, "was every bit the picture of a classic hippie; casual air, long pony tail, and a Grateful Dead sticker on his aging pickup truck." In a sense, it was a mirror image of the anti-establishment persona that St. James (as James Wolcott) had embraced as a teen and that had animated his desire to kill the family he hated in order to set himself free. 

As St. James ate a chicken pot pie, Gardner eased into what she really wanted, relating: "I talked about doing research on atypical psychology and said 'I came across some information in, um, Central Texas...' His fork stopped - for a geologic age. He never denied who he was, and I never said any words like Wolcott, killing, or glue, and the conversation went on pretty much as it had before. We talked about 90 minutes and although he gave me absolutely nothing new about the crime, I knew more about him when we were done, including when he was truthful, avoiding the subject, and lying." 

She didn't elaborate, though she added: "I told him I was considering writing a book and he said he didn't care. When I asked if he'd just help me get to the truth he gave me an immediate 'No.' I then said it would be hard to write a truthful book about him without his input. He said I should 'walk away and do something else...' I found it interesting that he cleaned his plate completely, while I only ate three bites of mine." 

And in parting comments, the Advocate noted that St. James "may never share the real 'why' with anyone and really doesn't care if we are curious. Although many have wondered what happened to him, he stated emphatically that he is 'profoundly uninterested in what people in Georgetown think of him.' Rest assured, it is not likely James Wolcott (or St. James) will ever attend a reunion."

They expected to see a monster, yet Gardner and Payne seemed in the end to be unsure of what they saw; whether Wolcott, in other words, is a redeemed man or a clever sociopath who fooled everybody -- his psychiatrists, two juries, and everybody who knows him as James St. James.

Anatomy of a Murder

What role did James Wolcott's evident narcissism, reflected in his self-absorption and embrace of the peace movement (and vanities of that era) have on his mind? Lots of kids sniff glue and do drugs. Very few of them murder their families in cold blood while they're high. If the psychiatric diagnosis was wrong, that opens up the possibility of St. James being a likeable sociopath, a man comparable to John List, the New Jersey accountant who murdered his family. List established a new identify, remarried, and lived a new life that was remarkably ordinary and law-abiding. 

The insanity defense figured prominently into the 1958 novel (and 1959 movie) "Anatomy of a Murder" -- a veritable guidebook on how to get away with murder by gaming the criminal-justice system. Author John D. Voelker, writing under the pen name Robert Traver, was a Michigan Supreme Court Justice who was troubled by the insanity defense and assorted legal trickery; and his novel (and subsequent movie of the same name) contains some memorable scenes reflecting his unease. Defense lawyer Paul Biegler, the novel's protagonist, gamely suggests to a quick-tempered Army officer (who shot a bartender in front of many witnesses) that temporary insanity might be a possible defense. He explains, "Well, insanity, where proven, is a complete defense to murder. It does not legally justify the killing, like say self-defense, say, but rather excuses it." 

Lt. Frederick Manion is intrigued and asks how long he might be in a mental hospital. "Months, maybe a year," Biegler replies. "It really takes a bit of doing. Being D.A. so long I've never really had to study that phase of it. I got them in there; it was somebody else's problem to spring them. And it didn't dawn this defense might come up in your case." 

St. James' former students are shocked by the revelations, yet most are standing behind their professor, and so is Millikin; it issued a statement saying: "Millikin University has only recently been made aware of Dr. St. James' past. Given the traumatic experiences of his childhood, Dr. St. James' efforts to rebuild his life and obtain a successful professional career have been remarkable. The University expects Dr. St. James to teach at Millikin this fall."

Of course, the murders were far more traumatic for St. James' father, mother, and sister.

In defending James Wolcott, prominent Georgetown lawyer Will Kelly McClaind is said to have aged ten years during the six months that he handled the case. He took it reluctantly, in part because he was troubled that "folks wanted to lynch the kid," his son, Martin, told the Advocate.
Similarly, the fictional Paul Biegler had his own misgivings, even while doing his job and advising the guilty-as-hell Lt. Manion of his legal options. "I had told my man the law," he related, "and now he had told me things that might possibly invoke the defense of insanity. It had all been done with mirrors. Or rather with padded hammers." 

St. James may find that openly discussing his past, in the spirit of truth-seeking expected from a professor, may help him regain some of the credibility he lost now that his dark past has finally caught up with him.

USDA OKs Greek yogurt for school lunch pilot program

New York Dems lobby for their state's Greek yogurt industry. But will America's kids feel they're getting porked by the feds?


Originally published at The American Thinker blog
By David Paulin
First, Michelle Obama called for healthier school lunches -- and kids complained that the first lady's menus left them hungry. Now, the United States Department of Agriculture has green-lighted a pilot program to serve trendy Greek yogurt in school cafeterias in New York, Idaho, Arizona and Tennessee. If all goes well this fall, Greek yogurt may became a staple in Washington's $11 billion school lunch program in some 100,000 schools.
In one sense, it's an example of America's growing European Union-style nanny state -- not to mention crony capitalism and insider influence. Two of the biggest cheerleaders of Greek yogurt are New York's Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand; and there also are Greek yogurt's powerful Washington lobbyists, including two former high-ranking USDA officials. They were hired by Greek yogurt maker Chobani which was founded in upstate New York by Hamdi Ulukaya -- a Turkish immigrant with business and yogurt-making savvy (he's now a billionaire) who knows how to pull the levers of power to become even richer. Interestingly, Greek yogurt -- perhaps with a wink from the first lady -- got on the USDA's fast track (eight months from start to finish) rather than plodding through an approval process that, according to Washington insiders, can take years for the school lunch program.
“This is unusual, it happened very fast,” Jerry Hagstrom, a veteran Washington journalist and expert on the USDA, told the New York Daily News, which recently revealed eyebrow-raising details of the push to get Greek yogurt in the nation's schools, including through Sen. Schumer's high-pressure lobbying at the USDA.
“I remember only one thing vaguely similar, involving serving bison meat on Indian reservations,” Hagstrom said.
Chobani and other Greek yogurt makers, for their part, recently presented the USDA with proposals about what they'd serve, but the winners have yet to be announced. New York stands to be a big winner, for it ranks as nation's biggest yogurt producer. Red-state Idaho has a Chobani plant in Twin Falls, so it also will share in the spoils, thanks in part to cheerleading from Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, a Republican. “I commend the USDA for choosing to implement this pilot program for Greek yogurt in Idaho schools," he said. "Greek yogurt is one of the country’s fastest growing industries, and I hope USDA will continue the important process of making this healthy food option increasingly available to young Americans.”
Well, pork is pork whether it's from Democratic or Republican lawmakers, right?
Along with this story of crony capitalism, insider influence, and EU-style edicts concerning what consumers should eat, is whether school kids will actually like Greek yogurt.
Some observers point out that Greek yogurt has  become popular among adults -- not kids. Adults like its slightly bitter taste and fact that it has lower fat and higher levels of protein than regular yogurt. But kids aren't that health-conscious and prefer treats that are sweet.
Oh well, even if school kids hate Greek yogurt and feel they're getting porked by the feds (so to speak) there will nevertheless be winners in this latest episode of Obama-era largess toward favored industries. Those winners will be lobbyists for Greek yogurt and their friends in Washington

Cuban baseball player defects in Iowa

Unlike Michael Moore, Misael Silverio understands that political and economic freedom are related

Originally published at The American Thinker blog


By David Paulin

Political and economic freedom are two sides of the same coin --  and if you don't believe it, ask Cuban baseball player Misael Siverio. The 24-year-old pitcher -- a promising left-hander with Cuba's National Team -- said adios to Cuba's worker's paradise on Tuesday while in Iowa for an exhibition game with the U.S. team.

Just hours after arriving in Des Moines, he defected. He reportedly vanished into the dark parking lot of a Sheraton hotel at 10 p.m. -- making good on plans to flee Cuba and join a Major League team.

As the Des Moines Register reported in Wednesday's paper:

Paul Seiler, executive director of USA Baseball, confirmed that Siverio is no longer on the roster of the Cuban team that tonight will play an exhibition game against the United States in Des Moines.

Seiler said the Cuban delegation declined to comment. “From their perspective, he’s no longer a member of their delegation,” Seiler said.

Friends in the United States aided Siverio, a left-handed pitcher who is experiencing one of the best seasons of his career while compiling a 1.90 earned-run average, according to El Nuevo Herald, a Spanish-language sister newspaper of the Miami Herald.

Details of how Siverio defected, however, remain unclear.

A manager at the Sheraton, located at 50th Street and University Avenue, declined to comment, citing the company’s policy against discussing guest business. Several Cuban coaches and players approached during workouts Wednesday at Principal Park also would not address the situation.

Cuba and the United States are scheduled to start a five-game, traveling exhibition series tonight at Principal Park, home of the Iowa Cubs. Michael Gartner, majority owner of the Iowa Cubs, said he was told only that “the guy walked out of a hotel in West Des Moines.”

The Cuban team arrived in the U.S. via a flight to Chicago on Tuesday, then traveled by bus to Des Moines. The team reached the Sheraton about 2 p.m., officials estimated.

Silverio's defection comes as Cuba struggles with a stagnant economy, its much-heralded economic reforms amounting to window dressing in a Soviet-style command-and-control economy. Private property and free-enterprise remain alien concepts.

Consider remarks by Mateu Pereira, an adviser to Cuba's minister of labor and social security. Recently, he told the Financial Times that the state employs 4 million people in its 5.1 million labor force, with the rest working in the "non-state" sector. The Times, for its part, noted that "an estimated 1 million Cubans of working age do not seek employment."

Oh well, so much for all those economic reforms and "free" health care that – surprise, surprise -- were not enough to keep Misael Silverio on the communist island.

Reacting to the defection, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida tweeted: “Just hours after landing in the U.S., #Cuban pitcher Misael Siverio defected from baseball team. Welcome 2 land of freedom + opportunity!”