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Thursday, November 27, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 23.0° F  Overcast
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Blaska's Blog: How to write the BlaskaBlog way
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"Do you know who I am?"
"Do you know who I am?"

MICHAEL: Your casino loses money; maybe we can do better.

MOE: You think I'm skimmin' off the top, Mike?

MICHAEL: You're unlucky.

No, I buy you out

Isn't that what Moe Green said to Michael Corleone's offer to buy the casino?

It amazes this former journalist, as Bill Lueders insists on calling me, that the Chicago Tribune is nearly bankrupt and that the New York Times is worth no more than its Manhattan real estate. Paul Soglin is reporting (can we use that word, Bill?) that once-flourishing Lee Enterprises, $48/share as recently as 2004, is now trading at less than 1% of that amount, 36 cents a share.

Soglin quotes another source that Lee faces default on $1.4 billion in debt undertaken to buy out the storied Pulitzer chain and that the company is now worth only $13.5 million.

Let me add this to the stew: The Capital Times Company is sitting on $130 million. I got that second-hand but I tend to believe it. If true, The Capital Times could buy up the State Journal and Capital Newspapers, formerly known as Madison Newspapers Inc., the entity it formed with the Lee chain in 1948. Hell, it could buy Lee Enterprises itself - and still keep the casino. And they don't need no deal with Barzini!

Still, I got to think that the Canadian-owned Thomson chain - and probably Pulitzer, were well ahead of the game. Thomson used to own all kinds of mid-size Wisconsin dailies, including the Waukesha Freeman. They sold everything but their flagship Toronto Star newspaper and went into the on-line news business, concentrating on financial news and other specialties. It's now known as Thomson Reuters.

Do you know who I am?

Puffed with non-nutritive air

Take the Sunday Wisconsin State Journal editorial section. Please. On Sundays, they get four pages to do their thing. That's a windfall of some pretty expensive real estate. So, what do they do with it? Get your Sunday Forum section out and let me walk you through it.

Page four has a half-page advertisement and I'm sure they would have liked more. Fair enough. But that leaves 3 1/2 pages or 847 square inches of space to play with. (A broadsheet newspaper page these days measures 22 inches long by 11 inches wide.) What does the State Journal do with this largesse? Wastes it on the biggest pictures and art you will find anywhere in the newspaper.

The "Embracing Kwanzaa" photo on the first page of the Forum section, at 7 by 11 inches, is only a little smaller than the photo of the Badgers losing at the Champs Bowl on the first sports page. At the bottom of the page are the Sticker Shock featured bumper sticker of the week and Cartoon Corner. At 15 square inches each, they are appropriately sized, it seems to this former journalist.

Turn to Page 2. There is a nice feature, the You Toon, where you supply the punch line to the cartoon (an idea borrowed from the New Yorker, but that's o.k.). Counting the side cutline (which we must) it consumes 54 square inches. That's twice as big as it need be. Under it is a photograph of General Motors' headquarters. At an excessive 30 square inches, it equals the essay accompanying it. I am a big believer in alleviating the tedium of type with art but in this case, a small GM logo would have done the trick.

Turn to page 3. There's a 20 square-inch photo of the Dane County emergency communications center accompanying a laudable editorial decrying the excessive secrecy surrounding that issue. Maybe a little too large but o.k.

But underneath is the most inexplicable thing of all: the day's lead political cartoon. It measures a whopping 60 square inches - most of it white space! (Well, the subject IS snow, but still!) On the fourth page of the Forum is a relatively modest photo of Pastor Rick Warren with Barack Obama and a third person - it is only 22 square inches.

Bottom line: out of 847 square inches, 263 - nearly one-third - are consumed by art - most of it over-sized. That's not counting the headlines, the mug shots, or the masthead.

Are they skimming off the top or just unlucky?

Downsize the page 2 and page 3 cartoons to 20 square inches each, and kill the GM headquarters picture and you gain 74 inches and we still haven't touched the page 1 Kwanzaa picture. That 74 inches would buy you space for another Tom Teepen column and a Jonathan Gurwitz column. Which, I would like to think, would be spent more wisely than that. (Talk about more wasted space!)

I still think Madison is an exceptional place; that it is hungry for thoughtful, informed - aggressive - local opinion. That's why you are visiting Stately Blaska Manor, right?

No pain, no gain

Want to learn how to write the BlaskaBlog way? (Who doesn't?) I can't improve on the advice I received many years ago from a source long forgotten: Write what you know. Despite outward appearances, that is what I try to do here at the Stately Manor, which overlooks the sprawling and completely automated BlogWerkes.

For that reason, I have kept arms length from the so-called dismal science, economics, having studied as little of it as possible at university. Then came the housing bubble and I realized that if Alan Greenspan, Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke couldn't get it right, I have as much chance of getting it right as the average Wall Street arbitrager.

I am excited by an Op Ed in the weekend Wall Street Journal written by one Peter Schiff, president of Euro Pacific Capital. The good news is that economics is not all that complicated, he writes.

Indeed, Schiff's essay gives credence to the great majority of Americans who tell pollsters that they oppose bailouts to the Detroit automakers. And to my observation that every time the government announces a stimulus of some sort or other, the stock market takes a dump. Those stimulus packages, he maintains, are the economic equivalent of miracle weight-loss programs that require no dieting or exercise. Bogus.

It's just common sense. It would be irresponsible in the extreme, Schiff notes, … (to) take out newer, bigger loans when the old loans can't be repaid. However, this is precisely what we are planning on a national level. Schiff warns that the government printing presses are issuing inflation, once the glut of goods and devalued assets is works its way out of the system.

These are excerpts from There's No Pain-free Cure for Recession:

Governments cannot create but merely redirect. When the government spends, the money has to come from somewhere.

Any jobs or other economic activity created by public sector expansion merely comes at the expense of jobs lost in the private sector. If the government chooses to save inefficient jobs in select private industries, more efficient jobs will be lost in others.

The bad news is that our economy is broken and there is nothing the government can do to fix it. … The free market does have a cure: it's called a recession.

It's like that New Year's Eve hangover, there is no pain-free cure for that, either. Imbibe all the hair of the dog concoctions you want, it only delays the inevitable. (I do advise taking two aspirins and as many Vitamin C pills as you can before retiring for bed, washed down with as much water as you can hold.)

Hooray for J.B.

Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is allowing retired Justice Department officials to carry concealed weapons, as permitted by Wisconsin's overly restrictive law.

Predictably, some worrywarts have their undies in a bundle that it may have been a few years since the retirees spent time at the firing range. So what? I like it that the criminals could have a stray thought that maybe the civilian they would like to victimize just might be carrying.

Now the Dane County Sheriff's Department, Madison Police, and other agencies should do the same.

What's GM got to do with it?

John Nichols invokes the shuttered GM plant at Janesville to excuse his latest round of protectionist, anti-trade prattle. Huh? GM could not compete against domestic production - Toyota, Honda, Kia, BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen, and Nissan have or soon will have auto plants in the U.S. In fact, GM is making some of its best money in, get this, China! And Ford was making money off its controlling interest in Mazda (great cars, I've got two of them) made entirely in Japan until it sold those shares, for a nice price, recently.

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